General ravings

My careering career

For some time now, O most cherished Reader, I’ve been contemplating a change in career.

Not that I’m in a hurry, of course.  

Having voyaged round the sun barely 67 times, and remaining singularly single in status and peculiarly plural in pursuits,  I know I have plenty of time to think about and decide on things like what next to study and forget, what to do when I’m grown up, where to explore work opportunities that bring satori and satisfaction, and so forth.  

Still, I think it’s important to start thinking along these lines while I’m still reasonably fit and independent and flexible in terms of time and commitments…don’t you agree? 

To begin with, I’m really not sure what exactly I want to do.

This, of course, is a huge advantage in planning my future career.

You see, not knowing what exactly I want to do is evidence of my unqualified willingness to absorb new ideas and learn new skills—as unqualified as my general lack of any meaningful academic qualifications. It also underlines my unmatched ability to abandon or forget earlier ideas and skills with equal rapidity. These are, I do believe, attributes that constitute the very foundations of a scientific temper.  All in all, I state without false modesty that I have a mind as uncluttered, unfathomable and uniformly vacant as that of any successful member of the Indian National Congress party: and the Congress, as I have scientifically predicted in an earlier post, is destined to thrash the BJP-led NDA and win the Lok Sabha elections in 2024!

This advantage— of not knowing what I want to do— is further strengthened by the fact that I’m not quite sure what I’m doing now, or indeed what I’ve been doing for the past 30 years.

Before that, I dimly recall, I was a banker, with State Bank of Travancore:  for over 12 years, from end-1979 to late-1992. I quit the bank in 1992,  the year during which the late and much-maligned stockbroker Harshad Mehta raised several thousands of crores of public money from complicit Indian banks and the gullible Indian public with far more ease and success, and far less fuss and public complaint, than any of our Finance Ministers since Independence.  

Let me candidly and freely admit that what I did during my years as banker, too, is no longer clear to me. Indeed, I must add that what I did during those years was never very clear to my erstwhile bank management either.

All I remember is that when I quit being a banker, I was enthused from black topi to pinkie toe with one blazing resolve: to write. And thus it was that in late 1992—armed with a portable typewriter, vivid memories and fanatical purpose— I adopted the guise of a freelance writer; a shabby, worn-out, ink-stained shawl that I still wear with pride, fully 30 years later.

Oh, now I recall a brief summary of my banking career that I wrote in 1994; it was carried as a middle by Times of India—you can read it here.

I also have a LinkedIn profile outlining my writing career! It’s something I created about 17 years ago at the suggestion of a young HR-manager friend. “Everyone needs a LinkedIn profile,” she declared firmly.  (It took nine years for me to discover, with chagrin, that she herself didn’t have one…never trust these HR people.)  I’ve been told my LinkedIn profile is quite therapeutic—it relieves the deepest of manic depressions.

But to return to the point from which I was rudely distracted by myself: namely, my contemplating a career shift.  Without further do, I present a brief resume for your information, entertainment and valuable comments and suggestions. I trust it conveys that I possess vast experience and diverse skills in a range of intensely obscure and significantly pointless vocations and fields.

 [Disclaimer: I shall not be held responsible for any injuries including and not restricted to dislocated jaws, involuntary expulsions of false teeth, sprains or breakages to fingers, bones, etc. caused by slapping or punching hard surfaces in paroxysm of mirth, or any other kinds of physical discomfort or distress that the Reader might undergo in the course of reading this document]

Profile

Basic

Name:  R P Subramanian

Age: Completed 47 years less than 20 years ago.  

Sex: Yes! (Registered readers above 18 years of age may click here for full details)

Marital status.  Singularly plural.

Gender pronoun:  He/Hey Ra/Abbe oye/Saar

Academic

  • Graduate in Science from North Eastern Hill University with Major in Vacuum Speculations and Distinction in Absolutely-Zero Physical Phenomena
  • Advanced research and intensive experimentation on the metabolism of a spectrum of psychoactive cyclic biochemicals including a broad spectrum of naturally occurring cannabinoids and extracts from the flowering Papaver somniferum. Also investigated the neuro-biological effects of the dextro and levo-isomers of certain chiral compounds (notably, 1-phenylpropan-2-amine)
  • Blue Card (‘Good’ ranking) in Class 3, St Edmund’s School, Shillong (1964)

Publications

  • Over 150 highly disclaimed op-ed articles and 400 eminently forgettable letters in Indian Express, Times of India and other mainstream print media; over 300 articles online gathering e-dust
  • Five books and a number of anthologized short stories for children (some of whom have hopefully survived and grown up, older and wiser)
  • About 18 universally unread books on energy efficiency and clean energy technologies in Indian industry

Skill sets  

  • Can walk eight kilometres briskly without forthwith giving up my last meal or my ghost, or alternatively run two kilometres at 24–26 kmph when chased by angry mosquitoes and/or Congress mobs (have demonstrated I can run significantly faster and further when mobs comprise members of  CPI(M) and/or Shiv Sena )
  • Over 40 years’ proven experience running a reasonably clean, dust-free household in which the PM 10 levels are at least 250% lower than the ambient air quality in Delhi.
  • Cooking for over 45 years (mainly veg, some non-veg) with a track record of not having poisoned anybody (yet). 
  • Comprehensive household management including essential O&M tasks such as hand-washing dishes;  jhadoo-pocha; dusting;  hand-washing clothes; Ironing; and primary-level stitching. 
  • Fluent in English and Hindi; proficient in Tamil, Malayalam and Assamese; working knowledge of Marathi and Bengali. Can banter and give gaali in three more Indian languages.

 I eagerly await your comments, most honoured Reader. In the meanwhile, I shall work on my next post, in which I shall outline some career paths that I would like to pursue before the Dreaded Donkeys of Dudgeon decide to pursue me.  

Caught you!!

I knew you’d come here looking for titillation, you naughty devil, you…!!

,

Musings, Remembering

The Lamp of Life…and Death

Today’s Saturday; a day to go before Deepavali dawns.

Death floated lazily over me today morning, as She so often does.

Yea, today I saw Death as She. Tomorrow perhaps Death will be He; or perhaps It; or simply the One.  Death takes infinite forms, Death rules us all, Death alone among all Gods and Prophets and other fantastic creatures with which we populate our skies and imagination is ever close to us, from the day we are born. 

As a dear doctor friend puts it: by far the most common cause of Death is Birth.

No, no, there’s nothing ‘fatalistic’ or morbid at all about discussing Death. In fact, the eve of Deepavali is such an appropriate time to muse on Death; for Death is the End and the Beginning of all things including Time itself.

“Yama, Death, is never to be feared…only respected,” another dear friend had once counselled me, long ago, at a time when she —and we—knew she would die within weeks; a time when I felt the numb desolation and dread that you have felt, all of us have felt, with the realization that one, whom you love dearly, is going to die soon.  “Sure, fear pain if you must; but never fear Death. We’re all afraid of pain, of becoming helpless, dependent on others …but Death ends all pain, ends fear…and so never fear Death. You need not invite Yama…He will come when He has to! You needn’t wait for Yama’s arrival, he is never late. But you must respect Him when He arrives.”  

The dear friend was Jaya; my mother. The conversation took place over 26 years ago…the morning of 2nd August 1996. She’d gone through a few days of mild, recurring headaches, and when she’d experienced a sudden dizzy spell our neighbor and doctor-friend advised her to get a routine scan just to rule out the possibility of a ‘mild stroke’. So, we called the scanning centre and got an appointment for the next morning; and Jaya and I took an auto-rickshaw to the scanning centre – she vociferously criticizing me and dad all the way for needlessly fussing, and wasting half-a-day (she had a book of hers to proofread, another one to write with a tight deadline), and declaring that it was all a complete waste of time and money, and that just to prove she was fitter than any of us, we would walk home the nine kilometers from the scanning centre.

Well… we sat around at the centre and waited our turn, and I remember there was a little kid there waiting like us with his young parents, the kid was teary-eyed with pain but bravely silent—a terrible spinal injury, his anxious parents told us—and Jaya chatted with the little tyke and teased him and even got him to smile (she had a magical way with children); and then our turn came and I stood next to her while they did the scan, lead-lined coat and all, and even then I knew something was seriously wrong because I had to hold Jaya steady on the trolley, her left arm and leg kept sliding off though she was quite conscious; and then the doctors came out of their little console room and asked permission to do a contrast scan or MRI or something. “Sure…but why?” I asked. “We’re seeing something we’re a little concerned about, we want a better look at it,” they replied. So they injected her with a radio-dye and did the scan again while I stood beside Jaya, and then they took me into their little room and showed me what their screen was showing them, and I forget their exact words but the image on the screen and some of their words phrases are burned into the mind. Mass lesions. Temporo-parietal region. Aggressive glioma. In essence, she was in the terminal stages of a brain cancer.

And after we returned home—of course we didn’t walk—and told dad, and we called brother Bala who was in Bangalore, the enormity of the situation hit like a tidal wave, and Jaya was calmest among us, and she took my hand and led me up to the little corner which was her puja room and she lit the lamp and we had this little chat about respecting Death, and she made me vow that I would not let any surgeon’s knife come near her.  She wanted no surgery, no medical interventions. She just wanted to be at home with us. She made me vow by the lamp of the little puja-room upstairs, the lamp that I’d always lit for her from when I was a kid whenever she couldn’t light it herself because she was away, or during the time she’d suffered burns from batik and taken months to recover.

And so I vowed.  

Jaya stayed with us at home for two weeks, growing weaker by the day yet almost gently, in little pain other than the on-off mild headaches…she kind of faded away till the night of August 17th when she slipped into coma and we moved her to a hospital where a wonderful doctor took her under his wing, a doctor who knew precisely what to do—and perhaps as important, what not to do. She stayed there for ten days, till Death came for her on the 27th August.

Sorry, gentle Reader, I didn’t expect to meander down this path of personal memory when I started this; but I think that’s the nature of the strange, misty trails that Death sometimes allows us to walk awhile, alongside with those whom She has come for. You too must have walked these trails…they transcend time and space. I mean, here’s something that happened 26 years ago; yet it’s as clear as it happened a moment ago, while I can’t remember anything about yesterday or even much of what’s happened today since I saw Death a few hours ago, while lying on my yoga mat out on the terrace.

Today morning Death took the shape of a bird; a kite, to be precise.  Even before I opened my eyes I knew Death was approaching; for the quiet of early morning was shattered by a sudden frenzy of chirping and cheeping and chattering, and hundreds of pigeons and mynahs and bulbuls and doves and sparrows took flight and squirrels and chameleons and garden lizards scampered and scuttled in a mad scramble for cover among the leafy boughs of the park trees or behind walls and flower-pots or beneath bushes and roofs and piles of leaves.  The kite floated lazily in an ever-widening circle, high overhead, ever higher, till She disappeared from view beyond the edge of the awning.  

The silence endured awhile…but presently, the Wild-Creatures’ all-clear signal was given and the birds and squirrels and lizards and the rest of them returned to their normal morning activities. For a little while, it seemed, there was a new watchfulness in them, perhaps because they’d been reminded of Death, inexorable, inevitable; up there, down here, among us, unseen, watching and waiting, waiting to pick us up at the appointed time. But very soon they were all cheerful and boisterous as before, any fleeting fear evaporated, forgotten.

Perhaps this is as it should be with Death.

Yudhisthira of Great Vyasa’s eternal Play, the ever-questioning Seeker, that impulsive, often unthinking, ever-self-doubting human whom each one of us resembles to some degree,  got it right in his interrogation by Death:

Yama: And what is the greatest wonder of the world?

Yudhisthira: Every day, every moment, we see living creatures depart through the Gateway of Yama…yet we live as though we are immortal.  

We live as though we are immortal. We must. It is right that we live Life without fearing or obsessing about or dreading Death. What is Life but a fleeting spark in the timeless, dimension-less Realm of Serenity whence comes all that is and was and shall ever be, to flicker and dance awhile in this dream we call Reality and thence return? The Realm that is the Supreme Singularity, the One, the Maha Black Hole whose Event Horizon is the Gateway we call Death?

Omar beheld it so clearly, expressed it so joyfully:

What, without asking, hither hurried whence?

And without asking, thither hurried hence!

Another, another Cup to drown

The Memory of this impertinence!

Death is a mercy, a gift, a blessing, the Lamp-Bearer on the Path Home. Death is a wonderful reason for us to live Life to the fullest; lives that don’t cause others or our own selves hurt or pain or sorrow or despair; lives of joy and laughter and light-heartedness and contentment and exploration and discovery and reflection, of compassion and love and fulfilment.

Happy Deepavali.

Remembering

From Eternity to Eternity

I’ve never been embarrassed about wearing my sentiment on my sleeve – if only on occasion. And 26th July, 2001 was one occasion, the 2nd anniversary of Vijay Diwas – the Martyr’s Day in remembrance of the uniformed ones who gave their lives during the Kargil war, 1999…a war during which a few dear friends in Army and Air Force had played active roles. Today being 26th July, here it is: for all fauji friends, for all men and women of the fauj, past and present and future. With respect, with love.

On the night of 26th July last year we lit two little lamps out on the balcony and gazed at the lambent flames while, and on the still air we heard the whispers of names…Clifford Nongrum, Haneefuddin, Saravanan, Kalia, Ahuja…names of men we had never met yet seemed to have known so well.

Surely, they would have been no different from any other young men in the world?  In their love for laughter and revelry, for the scents of rain upon earth and flowers in a woman’s hair, for home-cooked food, the warmth of a family gathering, a boisterous game with children…they too must have yearned for leisure, for romancing, for peace. One of them had played the guitar, another had a voice like Rafi’s. Rich and varied were their tastes in music, as indeed their backgrounds and origins. Yet fierce were the bonds that had joined these men of diverse faiths, united them in their battle to preserve this very diversity, this richness and variety.

A strange, overwhelming sense of loss came upon us even as the flames rose steady and unwavering. We glanced up at the high-rise apartment blocks all around, at their dark balconies and terraces. A stray breeze brought a brief snatch of canned laughter from some TV set in some curtained lounge. And bitterness and anger welled up, sudden and surprising. How could they all be so callous, the inner voice raged, how could they forget the martyrs of Kargil so soon.

But the self-righteous and sentimental mind’s voice was abruptly quelled by a remembered voice from childhood: easy, self-assured, slightly mocking in tone, the voice of a young soldier, slain in battle long ago.

“Listen,” he had murmured, “in life, what others think or do doesn’t matter a damn. What YOU do is the only thing that counts. Before you, before each one of us, there’s a path; the path of duty. Seek that path, follow it, all else falls into place. It is so simple…”

The voice faded back into the caverns of memory; the flames flickered. And suddenly the twisted, tangled coils of sentiment and anger dissolved into a moment of deep understanding. Indeed the martyrs of Kargil had fought obdurate foes, in the harshest of conditions. They had endured terrible pain, died warriors’ deaths. But they were men who believed – nay, who knew – that beyond death there is no joy or sorrow, neither friendship nor enmity; there are no borders or lines of control, nor remembrance nor names.

There is only the peace of Eternity.

That is why our soldiers treated even the enemy’s slain with dignity, with honour. And that is why they were victorious.

We turned away, then. Fleetingly, sadness returned as we beheld the dark balconies all around. A flicker of yellow drew our attention to the right…and we gazed spellbound.

Down there, beyond the compound wall, set in the humble doorway of a tarpaulin-roofed dwelling, two candles had been lit. Their flames rose steady and unwavering. And again on the still air came the whisper of names…Vikram Batra, Neikezhakuo Kengurüse, Kanad Bhattacharya, Vijayant Thapar, Mohammad Hussain…

[‘Slain victors’: The Pioneer: 31 July 2001]

Musings, Verse perverse

Departure

Saying goodbye should never be hard…

Like atoms in a Universe are we all, drifting

Endlessly, without beginning, now here now there

Coming together perchance, then moving apart once more

In the Dance of the Cosmos, that began even before Time began

Union brings warmth, sharing brings joy, contentment

Fulfilment, perchance even Love

The nature of the Dance wills that we shall drift apart again

Why then grieve over farewells, so universal, so inevitable?

Love endures beyond farewells! Beyond Time

By Love indeed has One created this Universe…for a Loved One

Each nanosecond we are born, we dance, we die, are reborn

Atomic clusters and energy quanta come together, fall apart, merge in new shapes

Now a crystal, now a rhino’s ear, now a fragrance, a sparkle in thine eye

A lightning flash today, the power of a thousand minds tomorrow

Eternally changing….yet unchanged, eternal!

At times sedate, at times frenzied, we sway and whirl and careen

To a divine Music that strikes resonant chords in all

A Stellar Orchestra, a Cosmic Choreography!

We the dancers, our Selves the instruments…

And the Composer-Conductor-Musician-Choreographer Supreme in you

And in me, in all there is…

Always

Musings

Taste of Oneness

[Adapted with gratitude from ISRO’s Insat 3D photo]

As always we were at the park by 0700: to amble and breathe the crisp clean air, absorb the rare element oxygen and do a bit of yoga on dew-damp grass, enjoy breakfast and coffee beneath the trees…ah, all so good for body, mind and soul in these troubled times.

Presently we strolled around the stalls and tables in the farmer’s market, picked up a few leafy vegetables and some little green elaichi bananas to ripen at home. We didn’t really need dry fruit, having stocked up amply the previous weekend; yet we stopped by Her table. She comes from a village near the twenty-five-centuries-old trading town of Herat on the Silk Road— in western Afghanistan, where the Taliban’s iron fist has struck the hardest. Her family trades in almonds, pistachios, walnuts, dates, figs and other dry fruit from Afghanistan, of such exquisite and unique flavor that we value them infinitely more than the slight premiums at which she sells them compared to the prices of similar produce marketed by the mega-kirana shops of Bezos, Biyani et al.

As always, we shared a smile and a quick word or three. As we turned to go, she softly called: “Wait!”  She picked up a date in delicate fingers, deftly opened it down the middle, selected a walnut kernel and placed it inside the date, folded the date shut, and then offered it to us with both palm extended, eyes shining, radiant with the invisible smile beneath the mask that erased the lines of anxiety and weariness from around her eyes and forehead.

Not long after, we were sprawled in deep shavaasana at a favourite spot—a little grassy plateau in a secluded corner of the park, shaded by a thick cluster of young trees, with the scents of myriad flowers and wet leaves in the air, inquisitive squirrels scampering about, and an orchestra of sparrows, mynahs, crows and an occasional lapwing providing ambient music to soothe the senses. A murmur reached our ears, a gentle ripple that brought us out of dreamy reverie: four women, young to middle-aged, had wandered into the grove. Briefly, they glanced at us: quick smiles and nods, and then they returned to their quiet converse, their eyes scanning the foliage above them. From time to time they reached up and plucked slender stems lined with light-green leaves, which they gathered in their palms like little bouquets. As they came close we sat up and exchanged namaskaars,

“What will you do with those leaves?” we asked.

They laughed and chorused: “We’ll eat them, of course!”

“But…what leaves are those?”

 “Why, tamarind of course!” they laughed again. “Haven’t you eaten tamarind leaf?”

“Tamarind!”

 “Yes, tamarind,” murmured one of them, clearly the eldest. “The young leaves are sweet to eat,” she went on. “They’re good to flavor your dishes with too.  The leafing time is nearly ended now; it’s hard to find any young leaves, they’re the most filled with flavor. But still, if you look hard enough you can find some…” Her Hindi carried the flavors of Rajasthan, her smile smoothened the deeply etched lines of a thousand cares and never-ending drudgery.

She nodded in farewell, and the group wandered off through the trees. We sank back into reverie, emerging when she suddenly reappeared. “Here, these are for you!” and she thrust a bunch of light-green leaves at us. “Enjoy their freshness,” she cried with a laugh and darted off to join her friends.

Two little flavoured moments: sweet nuttiness blending with earthy, lemony tartness. Two little moments: so inconsequential, yet filled with so much affection, spontaneous generosity and warmth, power, shared joy… elements that will endure long after the toxins of these dreadful times have dissipated; the elements that make up timeless memories, that become anchors for us to find stability and equanimity in the choppy unpredictable currents of life, blessings for which we are infinitely grateful.

Musings, Verse perverse

Tumble-Wash Epiphany

Of late I’ve been experiencing a strange mental turmoil.

Days and nights have been passing in a timeless, rather pleasant blur—nothing unusual about that, as the passing of days and nights in a blur has pretty much been part of my philosophy and lifestyle since 1963, when my Class 2 teacher recognized and highlighted it with a vitriolic comment or three. But in the past few months, the blur has been interspersed with short but incredibly vivid interludes of fantasy that are as engrossing and disturbing as they are impossible to wipe off the cerebral slate.

Last night, I actually experienced intense déjà vu within dream. The weird thing is (or was), in my dream I was not myself—meaning, I was not this dusty old bandicoot who even now sits in a dusty corner of East Delhi on a sultry mid-August night writing this crap. Instead, in my dream I was a dusty old historian from South Delhi in body, mind and soul, a part-time heritage walk mentor specializing in ancient Sultanate and Mughal monuments. I was walking through the Mehrauli Archaeological Park area on a grey, misty, bitterly cold January day with a small group of men, women, children, and a few other creatures including a squirrel wearing bifocals and the crafty look of an avaricious advocate. The walk was going quite well in my dream, though I was mildly irritated by the squirrel which kept asking me searching and intelligent questions about squinches, domes, arches and other such architectural things that I knew very little about, and  that chuckled and chittered loudly and derisively whenever I fumbled for answers.

All at once, without warning, the swirling mist intensified into a white-out fog. Alarmed, I froze in mid-step and called to the others to stop …even in dream I remember noting how flat and muffled my voice sounded. And then, like the clouds of moisture-laden air that wander amidst the deep gorges of Sohra and Pynursla, the dense fog magically thinned into great billowing columns that parted like pearly curtains and evaporated into blue nothingness, and I found myself bathed in brilliant sunshine, and that’s when I realized two things:

One: I was no longer with my group in Mehrauli but standing alone, utterly alone on a vast, treeless sweeping slope strewn with scree, surrounded by incredibly tall snow-streaked mountains;

Two: I knew for sure I had never stood on that slope or ever seen those mountains in my life, yet I knew I had been there before, experienced that experience before…just as I knew exactly and fully what I would think and see and  hear and smell and taste and feel at the very next moment and at every moment from then onward, for ever and ever…

…And that’s when, even as I clutched on to that timeless déjà vu, it slipped away and vanished with the growing awareness that I must be in the coils of dream, because there was no way in which I, a heritage walk mentor, could have transported myself from Mehrauli in south Delhi to what appeared to be a steep mountain-side amidst the high Himalayas…leave alone experience déjà vu in that desolate place. And with that awareness that I was dreaming came a tidal wave of terror that I might awaken to find myself not the historian/heritage walk mentor that I actually was, but as someone else…perhaps even as a decrepit old writer lying in bed in east Delhi. And at that thought a great abyss of dread opened up deep within my mind as the tidal wave tossed and turned me hither and thither and eventually flung me, battered and bruised, on to the shores of consciousness where I lay trembling, awake at last.

How could I possibly have dreamed such a dream, in which I was not only someone else but had actually experienced déjà vu as that someone else?

I have no answers; only questions, that sound so demented I am almost too scared to voice them.

Yet I must.

Have the global clouds of angst and anxiety, spawned by Covid-19, finally overcome my cerebral defences? Do they now wait, like monsoon clouds in their brooding and silent enormity, to pour forth their giga-tonnes of fluid insanity and wash away what remains of my cognition in a raging neural flood?  

Have I waded for too long in the limpid pool of Mann Ki Baat, to now be flushed away and drowned in the foaming toilet of Monsoon ki Bath? 

Have I finally achieved the position grimly foretold for me by my class 2 teacher, and become quietly yet indubitably insane?

In the sacred name of Bakasura the Ravenous, will I ever be able to escape from this realm of Guiche into which I have wandered wonderingly and now wonder wanderingly?

These and other troubled musings kept me tossing and turning till dawn; whereupon, after a few cups of healing tannin and caffeine solutions, I went up to the terrace and put a load of clothes to wash.  Watching the sheets and pillow cases tossing and turning in the washing machine just as I had tossed and turned half the night, I began to feel better. Slowly but surely, that familiar old timeless and rather pleasant blur of being returned to soothe my frayed neurons, dendrons and rhododendrons. The washing machine hummed contentedly; the birds chirped happily as they hunted bugs in the foliage; a squirrel streaked across the tiles, sat on its haunches a few feet away, chirruped a series of questions and stared at me through shrewd eyes, waiting for a response.  I stared back at it, wondering why its accent seemed so familiar…but the moment passed, as did the squirrel.

My questions may have no answers; I realize that now, as I write these words.  

Indeed, my answers may have no questions.

Yet I find some blurry comfort in the immortal lyrics of that great and little-known Tamil bard of yore, Konal Kuttilingam (c. 644–596 BCE) whose octrain ‘Ode to Calavai-Pen‘ was translated and soulfully rendered by Irish blues singer Anne O’Nimus at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, 1963 shortly before her tragic demise due to an accidental overdose of pandemonium nitrate.

Wash’d like a garment might thou feel, O beloved, in this Kaveri of Life

Beaten and scrubb’d by Great Calavai-Pen* on Her adamant stone

Yet despair not! Only by this Bath of Anguish, this Path of Strife

May’st thou for many Muttal-Thanams@ of the Past atone

Be joyful, then, as She cleanses thee, wrings thee

Spreads thee to dry: do not moan and groan

Behold! the Vapours of Illusion leave thee, pure and free

To ask: “Dog without bone, or bone without dog…who is more alone?

[(Tamil) *Calavai-Pen = washerwoman; @Muttal-Thanam = idiocies; boo-boos. Translation by the late lamented & lamentable Periachandu Dorai II of Mayiladuthurai (1946 – 1997)]

General ravings, Musings, Remembering

WTF should I WFE when I can WFH?

A ramble in 23 disconnected parts

One of the major impacts of the Coronavirus Era is that a whole lot of people are now working from home (WFH). 

I realize, with considerable delight, that WFH is what I’ve been doing since 1993.

That was when, after just about 13 years as a lowly and descending-ever-lower State Bank officer, I awoke one day to the realization that, judging by my precipitous career graph and the learned and corrosive opinions of several influential senior management functionaries, I was both unlikely and unfit to become even the part-time trainee-assistant to a certain peon who had been placed under suspension at the bank’s Thalayolaparambu branch for interesting-sounding offences such as  ‘moral turpitude’ (I was informed by usually unreliable sources that the peon later rose to be the chief vigilance manager of the bank).

It was an epiphany of sorts. I suddenly became aware that all that I’d ever wanted to do since the age of six was to work as  engine-driver or coal-shoveller in the Indian Railways—preferably on the wonderful WP/M Class 4-6-2 Canadian steam engines that hauled express and mail trains.

Or, as Plan B, I wanted to be a writer. 

And so, to resounding cries of joy from the senior bank management functionaries and other colleagues, I quit my memorably erratic and obscure career in the world of banking and finance in September 1992 to begin a new and even more erratic and obscure career as a writer—my dreams to join Indian Railways having, alas, been derailed because I had no engineering or coal-shovelling qualifications, and in any case by the early 1990s almost all the coal-fired steam engines had been phased out.

And so, O Patient and Worthy Reader, here I’ve been ever since then—WFH, scribbling and clacking away with pen and keyboard respectively, often disrespectfully, and sometimes retrospectively on almost every subject under the sun and a fair number of objects well beyond the sun too.

The Coronavirus Era is indeed terrible. Yet,  I’m happy that millions of others can at last discover the joys and benefits of WFH, even in these viroid paranoid times when people can’t sit together in persona to waste pleasant and unproductive hours in meetings, workshops, seminars and conferences, but are forced instead to sit in separatum (or alag alag, beleg beleg or taniya taniya) in their own respective abodes and waste even more pleasant and unproductive hours Zooming and MS Teaming and Webexing their angst at not being able to sit together  in persona to waste time. 

I just love WFH. I believe WFH is infinitely better than WFE (working from elsewhere).  

Join me in a few whoops of ‘WTF should I WFE when I can WFH’!   

Of course, I realize that WFH has been quite different for me than it is for most other people today, in two fundamental ways:

1.  I chose to WFH; a virus didn’t make that choice for me.  

2.  I’m doing something totally different while WFH (writing) from what I was doing before WFH (being a banker); whereas a lot of people WFH today are doing the same things that they were doing before WFH.

So, I’m fully aware there’s no comparing my WFH with your WFH. Still, I dare say there are a few wonderful joys of WFH that all we WFH-ers share.  Like:

  • Avoiding the drudgery and tedium of spending hours driving or otherwise commuting scores of kilometres to and from work—in uncomfortably close proximity with thousands of co-commuters of assorted aggressiveness, aromas, and angularities.
  • Doing the same amount of work – or often, much more work – from the comfort of home, where you can take breaks for tea and coffee  and snacks and a stroll and a quick goof-off or even nap as often and for as long as you like.
  • Learning new or long-forgotten skills – like listening to bird-calls, sharing comfortable silence with a friend, chuckling to oneself, reading, reflecting, simply being. 
  • Breathing deeply – even if only through a mask – for scientists claim to have found increasing traces in the air of the rare element oxygen (alas, that blissful state has long since been obscured in Delhi by vehicular and political smog). 

WFH gives me the chance to work flexible hours. I can better manage my time, and so create time in which to do more of what I like to do, as well as explore doing all kinds of new things I always wanted to do but couldn’t or didn’t because of lame reasons like “Got to get up early” or “I’m too tired” or “Where’s the time for that?”

And it’s funny, but even though I’ve been WFH for over two decades, I’ve got more work done since March 2020—during the Coronavirus Era— than I have during the same period in earlier years. 

By ‘work’ here, I mean writing stuff about clean, energy efficient technologies, which I do for a research institute that has – much to my pleasant surprise – retained me as a consultant for over 25 years.

Could my improved productivity be some weird synergistic effect of WFH and Covid-19?  

Many a night these past six months have I tossed and turned sleeplessly while exploring this idea; twice have I fallen right off the bed and into deep sleep. But still I have no answer.

Enough to say that besides posting a dozen blogs since March, I’ve also started to write about seventeen much longer pieces about far more serious things as well. Things like:

  • The rapid spread of Left Liberal ideologies among red ant colonies in the National Capital Region
  • Violent conflicts over power stealing and parking rights among members of Resident Welfare Associations and Cooperative Housing Societies in Delhi, and their striking parallels with violent conflicts among members of Lok Sabha, state assemblies, and media houses over power broking and barking rights
  • An interim report on my ongoing psycho-sociocultural study (tentative title: ‘Growing Influence of News-Reader Squirrels on Main-Scream Indian Media: is Democracy Safe?’ ), which focuses on the behavioural characteristics of squirrels that perch at great heights on trees and buildings and chirrup the day’s news loudly and aggressively with threatening tosses of their heads and tails—mannerisms that have been adopted with great success by leading TV news channel hosts such as Navika Kumar of Times Now and Arnab Goswami of Republic TV.
  • The urgent need for government to seize the opportunity provided by social distancing norms in offices and public places and public transport systems, and implement a National Awareness Mission for EBOLA-PS (Eradicating Body Odour and Like Aromas in Public Spaces)

I’ve also read more books these past eight months than I read during the five year period 2014–2019. These come to mind:

  • The Greatest Show on Earth—the evidence for evolution [Richard Dawkins]
  • Amusing ourselves to death—Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business [Neil Postman]
  • Bridge of Clay [Markus Zusak]
  • Biology of belief [Bruce Lipton]
  • Permanent record [Edward Snowden]
  • Last chance to see [Douglas Adams & Mark Carwardine]

Oh, I’ve also been reading—rather, re-reading with renewed enjoymenta few books that I’d first read in the 1970s and 1980s: like Opus [Isaac Asimov], A History of England [G M Trevelyan], Tribal folktales of Assam [S N Barkataki],  and The Deadly Element [Lennard Bickel].  Oh, and a P G Wodehouse anthology or two, too, in between.

And then, I’ve taken some guitar lessons. From Fender, the US guitar makers, who in April 2020 offered three months’ online lessons for free to people across the world, just to cheer us up during the pandemic!  So I registered at once, and hauled out and dusted off the old guitar, and logged in about 37 lessons.  I’m not sure how much I’ve learned, but I’ve certainly unlearned a whole lot of wrong ways of playing guitar that I’d taught myself 50 years or more ago. And then, while I was still practicing to transit smoothly from G to C, suddenly it was October, and I realized that my three months’ free lessons had long expired and I’d been taking lessons for nearly three months without paying one paisa or cent to Fender.  So I checked with Fender, and learned that they’d quietly and generously extended my free online lessons by four months.

 Just like that. 

That little thing that Fender did meant so much to me.  The memory still brings a warm glow. As do the  countless such little acts of generosity, insaaniyat, kindness and selflessness that millions and millions of people have done and are doing for others, for complete strangers around them and across the world, without fuss and without making a big noise about it and without expecting anything at all in return, least of all publicity.   It restores hope and courage, strengthens faith: that even amidst the roiling clouds of violence and war and hatred and selfishness and cold cynicism that seem to be engulfing the world and filling the minds and hearts of young ones with hopelessness and apathy and numb terror, the essential ‘goodness’ of people will surely endure, shine forth, evaporate the clouds as the warm light of dawn disperses night.  

More on that anon…

In conclusion, O patient Reader, here’s something else that I’ve tried during WFH in the Corona Era: writing a diary.

In junior school, in class 3 or 4, an enthusiastic teacher gifted each of us a diary and asked us to write down something in it daily – thoughts, poems, a paragraph, a line – and read aloud from it after a week or two. Each day’s effort was to be addressed to ‘Dear Diary’. Alas, driven insane by our inane and incoherent ramblings, our teacher soon abandoned the entire project and my diary became a rough book duly filled with doodles and scribbles. But Demented Desire for Dear Diary has blazed on in the heart for over five decades, like a young love remembered.

And so I found a battered old notebook and wrote ‘Diary’ on the cover, and scribbled my first diary post. Here it is, typed verbatim from the original scrawl:

Dear Dairy,

How are you? I am fine.

It’s now just after 23.00. I’ll keep it simple and try to summarize what I did today.

  • Woke at 05:45.  Popped in daily thyroxine goli, dozed off again.
  • Re-woke at 06:20 with rush of energy from thyroxine and smarting elbow from mosquito bite.
  • 06:25–06:50.  Brush-wash routine; brewed pot of tea with ginger shavings, quaffed large mug-full.
  • 07:00–08:00.  Yoga on terrace.
  • 08:00–08:30. Pottered around terrace and balcony, getting some ultraviolet; watered plants on balcony, gave sunbirds a shower, chittered mild colloquial Malayalee insults at squirrel which chittered chaste Gilayree insults back at me in a distinct Haryanvee accent.  
  • 08:30–09:15. Ate a few walnuts and a couple of raisins. Brewed coffee, drank a cup. Shaved. Showered.
  • 09:15–09:40. Made and ate breakfast—a toasted cheese-chilli sandwich, carbonized to nano-scale at the edges, with a fried tomato. Quaffed shot of coffee.  Cooked up lunch (tomato peppery rasam; chaalu sabzi from one small leftover brinjal, one carrot, one potato, segment of lauki; confirmed plenty of rice leftover).   Washed dishes.
  • 09:50–10:15. Settled down at desktop. Read headlines on People’s Daily, The Quint, Indian Express, Times of India. Posted comment on The Quint, knowing full well it might disappear without trace (it did). 
  • 10.15–13:15. Worked at desktop.  In between, took tea and biscuit break, and goofed off to:
  • read blog-post by colleague-writer
  • play one game of chess with computer-jee, which I won in 18 minutes, hitting ‘undo’ only once after making colossal blunder on move 14 (record now: 51% wins and 10% draws at Level 7…haw, preen preen). 

13:15–13:30. Stared at emails, phone messages, small wolf-spider on wall. Processed, replied to and archived/deleted all but the spider, which scuttled off in hot pursuit of energetic ant. (When reports last came in, ant was leading by several spider-stride lengths).

13.40–14.20. Lunch. Aimless one-kilometre stroll around terrace and balcony.

14.25–1715. Back to work at desktop and later at writing desk. 

17.15–18.00. Coffee. Guitar lessons, a bit of practice.

18.00–1840. Walked 4.8 km. The circuit, repeated nine times:  downstairs bedroom – drawing room – kitchen – back to drawing room – up the stairs – { [terrace –  upstairs bedroom – balcony] × 3 } –  down the stairs – drawing room – kitchen – back to drawing room – bedroom.

18.50–19.15. Relaxed on terrace; watched sunset with assorted fauna.  Ate apple.

19.30–20.45. Drummed on clay pots, doumbek, chairs and tables; played kartaals.  Listened to music.  Long chat with brother Bala. Roasted up some murmura with hing-kari patta- peanuts;  ate a kinnam-full.  Sipped mug of chai. Fixed dinner : four geographic chapattis (two shaped like Australia), masur dal.

20.45–21.15. Watched TV: Wion, CNN, Rajya Sabha, Republic TV.  Yelled encouragement at Arnab Goswami as he launched a spirited argument with himself and lost it.

21:15–21:40. Showered. Dined. Washed, dried and put away dishes.

21.45–23.00. Read about 12 pages of book. “Amusing ourselves to death”.  Now scribbling this.

23:00 – Now a little sleepy. Tomorrow I plan to wake early and fnm with rjo3pvm ssokwmd bfs

[Incomprehensible hereafter]  

This diary post is dated Saturday April 11th 2020.

It is my first diary post since 1965.  Alas, it’s also the last.

WFH is wonderful, but in some ways WFH is no different from WFE— a never-ending battle against procrastination.

Jai Hind, Happy WFH-ing, Happy Deepavali.