Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Tale of Two Ghost Ladies/Alka is back, is she?

Part A - Ghost Lady Number 1

She told her name was Shalini. She did not tell her surname. What she did tell however was that she had a younger sister and that she was named Malini (interesting name ... hmmm?); and that they shared a common e-mail id shalini_malini@yahoo.co.in. After all, she lived in Bangalore, the global capital of Information Technology, she claimed.

However, the letter that she posted for Khastagir was not via internet, but through the age old Indian Post. This was 2001 and we were still in Vidyapith. Most of us still had not opened our first e-mail account and had no access whatsoever to the wonderful world of internet. As against Bangalore, we were in the small holy town of Lord Shiva – Deoghar – that not many Indians will be able to pin point on the vast map of India.

The letter she posted was in a simple white envelope with the stamps of required value duly pasted on it. Khasta's name was written on the top of the envelope in a beautiful English handwriting. The moment Khasta opened the envelope; the news broke out in the hostel faster than a forest fire.

He had got a love letter. All the way from Bangalore. Travelling through a major part of India.

As if in a fairy tale, Shalini had come across a photograph of Khasta in the house of one of the ex-students of Vidyapith in Bangalore. Even more interesting was the fact that it was a simple batch photograph in which Khasta was just one of the many standing in one of the queues. He must have had been damn smart and good looking even in those days. How dumb the whole batch had been not to have discovered the hidden star amongst it. After all, there must be something in you if you are attracting a girl all the way from Bangalore.

This was the first love letter that anyone from the whole batch had ever received. Khasta had become an instant hero. There were celebrations all around. And there were a few who had fallen into depression thinking - Yaar .. saala Khasta abhi se baaji mar raha hai. Mera kya hoga.

The letter was as good as one should expect it to be at that age. It was written neatly in Hindi by a girl residing in Bangalore to a Bengali guy based in Patna and studying in a boarding school in Jharkhand. Mr. Bhagat, if one of the purposes of your book Two States is to promote the national unity, then our Khasta had definitely beaten you in the game far before you had even arrived on the horizon.

But then, the fairy tale ended.

People were already investigating the letter, trying to find out whether it had genuinely arrived from Bangalore or was it a fake. Someone noticed that the stamp pasted on the envelope was lacking in the thappa of the Postal Department that any stamp really going through the Indian Postal System must carry on itself. A little more investigation, and someone suggested – Yaar ye handwriting kucch jaani pahchani si lag rahi hai.

Ultimately, it turned out to be a trick played by Aayush on Khastagir. Aayush had gone to the rooftop - The door to the roof top was still unlocked; Bob Cut had yet to arrive in the collective life of the collegeboys - and had meticulously written the letter there, far away from the prying eyes. Then he had tried his level best to make it look as original as possible. The trick had held its ground for at least 4-5 hours that day, which in itself was a big success.

The tables had been turned. Faces that had gone into depression were smiling again. Khasta, saale, there is still time for the competition to start. You just wait for us to reach out to the greater world outside. Khasta, on the other hand, was sad. He had just lost the hope of having his first girlfriend.

Shalini had turned out to be nothing more than a beautiful figment of imagination. She had turned out be a Ghost Lady who simply never existed.

Part B - Ghost Lady Number 2

I was in my first year of college when Priyanka came into my life for a highly brief duration of 20-25 minutes. I was surfing in the internet cafe in Hanuman Nagar, when she buzzed me on Yahoo Chat. This time the e-mail id used was priyanka_kanpur@yahoo.co.in. I have not visited Yahoo Chat for more than past two years, but I am sure this e-mail id must still be there in my friend list.

I am an UP-ite from Kanpur and am pursuing M.B.B.S. in Ramaiah - She introduced herself.

I replied something, more than happy at heart.

I have seen your photograph at .... - Came the reply from the other end of the internet, in case there is one. The story of my discovery by her followed.

Hey! Am I going through a deja vu? No, surely I am not. I pinched myself. Something is fishy here. Priyanka's story can’t be so similar to Khasta's. This is not a girl! I need to go on offensive. I must save myself from falling into the trap. I said to myself.

So, where are you these days and what are you doing? - Next question popped up in my chat window.

This is the right moment. Go! Hit!!

I work with the directors of the Naughty America series. Just yesterday we have returned to Las Vegas, where we have our studio, after shooting some great short movies in the ice cold locales of Alaska. - I typed the first thing that came to my mind.

And what Naughty America exactly is? - She explored further.

My dear sweet lady. You pretend as if you don’t already know what it is. I explained NA to her.

Whosoever was at the other end pretended as if he/she was pissed off and went offline; never ever to bother me again. The whole conversation must have lasted not more than 30 minutes. I have never again received any mail whatsoever from that e-mail id. And I have never tried to contact this so-called Priyanka.

A few days after this incident, I was talking on the phone with Victor Mayengbam. He asked me something about some girl in Bangalore. Although I have not been able to make him confess it, I doubt to this day that Priyanka in Bangalore was actually none other than Mayengbam himself.

So, this is the story of Ghost Lady Number 2, the first and the only one that I had ever come across. Till, I guess, the very recent past.

Then, I too got a love letter. My first one ever. From Alka.

Yes! She has written me a love letter. Any reader of this blog interested in reading the same is most welcome to go to the comments section of (My Dear) Alka.

Part C - Welcome, ‘Alka’

Dear ‘Alka’

(You must have noticed that three things have changed in my way of addressing you. Since you claimed my brackets make you conscious, I have removed them. Also, I am not using the word ‘My’ and am putting your name in hyphens. This, I hope, will be indication enough that I do not consider you to be the Alka whom my letter was originally addressed to.)

I hope you will not be taken aback by my discussing both you and your letter on this public platform. After all, what other means of communication do I have with you, if not this? Also, your being just a name in the vast virtual world of internet will surely provide you great respite.

The day I read your letter for the first time, I was not only taken aback, I was also confused for a moment. But then, thankfully, I remembered the above two Ghost Ladies, and I was more or less certain that this is again someone playing a prank.

It does not mean that I do not appreciate the effort you took in writing that beautiful letter. Contrary to it, I fell in instant love with the way you write.

You do seem to have a great flavour for written English, which I simply cannot see coming from a girl from Muzaffarpur. Sadly, my – or, as per your claim, our – home town lacks any good library whatsoever to speak of. Also, I have never come across even a single student there who takes enough pains to reach out to the beautiful world of English literature. The way you write must follow reading good literature over a good duration of time.

Also, you have claimed to have found me by CHANCE, while moving through this vast blogosphere. Now, you do not need to be a great student of Mathematics to know that although there is indeed a chance of such a finding, it is almost next to impossible. My name is a highly unique one, and a simple search on Google, I am sure, would have given you some lead at least to reach out to me. I am afraid I don’t understand what this ‘moving through this vast blogosphere’ means.

Having said this, I must thank you profusely for taking your time out in order to write such a beautiful letter to me. Thanks a bunch once again.

And, hey, don’t you worry dear, I don’t have any intention whatsoever of trying to find out either where my real Alka is or who you really are. So, take it easy, mate.


P.S. –

1. Khastagir has grown into a brave man. He is in the Indian Army and is currently posted in Manipur. He happens to be the only guy from our batch who has shot dead a homo-sapien. It was in Kashmir, and the guy killed from his bullets was a terrorist. He is surely running ahead than the rest of us in this field at least. When he was posted in Kashmir, he fell in love with a rustic Kashmiri beauty. I hope he is still in touch with her.

2. Aayush graduated from IIT Kharagpur and is currently pursuing his MBA from IIM Kolkata. He will definitely carve out a great life for himself. My best wishes are with him.

3. Mayengbam was in Bangalore when I had my brief conversation with Priyanka. He did his MBA from ICFAI Kolkata and is working currently in the City of Joy itself. A highly jovial guy that he is, I am sure he will also do great in his life. My best wishes to him as well.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mithilesh Maharaj in Mumbai/Muzaffarpur Hospital Project

"Bihar ko aage le jaana hai ki nahi?" - Mithilesh Maharaj said from the back seat of the Fiat Mumbai taxi. He was telling me and Satyanshu about the Hospital Project of the Muzaffarpur Center of the Ramakrishna Mission. I was so engrossed in the matter being discussed that although I was sitting in the front, I had almost completely turned backwards, folding my legs on the seat.

"When was the last time I had heard such a statement regarding development of Bihar coming from an official of the Bihar Government?" - I wondered. Probably never. And here was a monk, owning almost nothing material, so passionately discussing his plans for the Muzaffarpur Center and how one day, three years down the line, this project will, by the grace of Thakur, be bringing a gamut of cheap yet quality medical services to the people of Muzaffarpur and its surrounding areas.

Mithilesh Maharaj was in Vidyapith during my time there. He was transferred from Deoghar to Patna before I passed out of Vidyapith in 2002. I had stayed with him for one year in Subodhananda Dham, of which he was the Dham Warden along with Kanak Da. Later he was transferred to the Muzaffarpur Ashrama, which has been running a small charitable dispensary there since 1926. He plans to turn this dispensary into a big three storey multi-facility partially charitable hospital. The project has already been given green signal from Belur Math and it was in order to raise the funds for this massive Rs. 8 crore project that he had come to the financial capital of India.

When Brajesh called me up last Saturday to tell me about his presence in Mumbai, I was in the office. It was instantly decided that the following day we will be going to the Khar Ashrama from where we will pick him up and show him a little bit of Mumbai. He had, after all, come to Mumbai for the first time in his life. Tudu and Satyanshu were also to join us.

"Main aajkal Muzaffarpur Ashrama mein hoon, aur aapko ye jankar aashcharya hoga ki main wahan ka Mahant (Secretary) bana diya gaya hoon."- Mithilesh Maharaj said and started laughing at the joke made at his own cost. The four of us joined him. It reminded me of the beautiful informal relationship we shared with our teachers in Vidyapith.

I don’t remember Mithilesh Maharaj taking many of our classes. He was more involved with the carpenter section of Vidyapith that looks after the numerous wooden material needs of the institute. However, I do remember the Sanskrit examination that we had taken in either class V or in class VI. If I remember it correctly, it was he who was our Sanskrit teacher at that time. That exam is probably the most unique examination I have ever taken in my life. There was no question paper at all and the instruction given was simple: “Write what ever you remember. And then just sprinkle the ink on the paper from your pen.” The sprinkles were supposed act as the bindus and halants and give a touch of Sanskrit to the matter written in the Devanagari Lipi. It goes without saying, no one failed in that examination.

Vidyapith really had some innovative ways of teaching and made an otherwise boring education a bit of more fun. Visits to the Aam Bagan and Gaushala under the supervision of Lal Da to get a practical feel of the biology at work in nature and screening of the movie Battle of Britain by Vishwaroop Maharaj during the course of teaching 2nd world war in History are just some of the examples.

We went to Nariman Point and Colaba and had lunch at a Chinese Restaurant in Worli owned and managed by the descendants of the Chinese population that settled down in India during the British rule. We had discussions on a number of topics ranging from religion, Vedanta, Upanishads and Swami Vivekananda to the current state of affairs in Vidyapith. Later we went to Brajesh's place for some time where we had a small bhajan session comprising of the bhajans that we used to sing in the morning prayer in Vidyapith. Sadly, we realised that we have forgotten a majority of them and needed active support of Maharaj in recollecting them. Brajesh was so enthusiastic about the session that he had in fact purchased a Mrindang from a road side vendor at the Gateway of India for Rs 500.

In the evening I and Tudu went to drop Maharaj at the Khar Ashram, where he asked us to wait and attend the Evening Aarti. Two of our seniors, one each from 1989 and 1991 batches, were coming to meet him after the Aarti.  We were sitting in the small Ashrama dining hall when the seniors joined us. Over the simple snacks of biscuits and tea, we discussed the various possible ways of raising funds for the Hospital Project. The two seniors have a good experience in the corporate sector and they gave inputs and shared contacts as to from where we could start. It was decided that first of all the information about the project must be spread in the Vidyapith fraternity all over India and abroad.

It was a different feeling altogether being a part of a discussion of such a massive project.  After all,  it is not very far back in time that we were just simple little kids in Vidyapith. Also, it reminded me of the numerous discussions that I and Brajesh have had as to why does Vidyapith takes children from the better-doing sections of the society and not from the lower strata that needs its services more than us. After all, don't most of us just comfortably slip into normal routine life once we are out of Vidyapith? How many people are out there in the world who will ultimately gain from our life? Isn't investing so much time and effort in raising us actually a wasteful expenditure on the part of Vidyapith? We often use to ponder.

The ongoing discussions that evening in the Ashrama were important for me as they also gave me the answers to these questions.

My batch was the first +2 batch of Vidyapith. I remember, when the idea of starting +2 was mooted by Secretary Maharaj, the school had zero infrastructure to support it. But then, not only was the required capital of  Rs. 1 crore raised in a small place like Deoghar, but the complete infrastructure was ready within a record time of 1 year. A huge part of that 1 crore must have had come from the ex-students of Vidyapith. That evening I realised that somehow today I am attached not only to Vidyapith but to the whole Ramakrishna Family in a manner more intimate than I had ever thought of. And somehow, even though I may not personally be able to benefit even a single person in my life directly, Thakur, just by giving me an opportunity to be a part of Vidyapith, has given me a reliable and sure-shot way of contributing back to the development of India in particular and the whole human race in general.

Last Sunday was one of the best Sundays I have spent till now in Mumbai. Not only was I blessed enough to be a part of such a serious and mass-impacting discussion, it was the closest that I could have come to Vidyapith while staying in Mumbai. I just hope that someone or the other keeps turning up from Vidyapith in my city of stay. Such meetings not only keep reminding us of the higher purposes of life, but also inject some sanity in an otherwise mad rush to make as much big bucks as one can.
Satyanshu, Myself, Mithilesh Maharaj and Tudu in front of Gateway of India. Brajesh is the one who clicked this photo. Satyanshu came with us in-spite of having a fracture in his leg. 

1. The incidents described here took place on 7th of February, 2010, Sunday.
2. All the donations made to Ramakrishna Mission Sevashrama, Muzaffarpur and Ramakrishna Mission Vidyapith, Deoghar are exempted from tax under Section 80-G. To have more information on the Hospital Project, please keep visiting the Ashrama website. The complete information is expected to be uploaded soon.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Morning Ride to Colaba.

“Why don’t we go for an early morning ride to Colaba?,” Santosh came up with the brilliant idea. It was 4:20 in the morning. He was over with his drinks, and I, in spite of putting in a lot of efforts, was neither able to write down any of my thoughts nor was able to get any sleep.

I had been awake since 2 a.m. It was a Monday morning and I had to go to the office.

“Man, I need to get some rest at least, if not a proper sleep. Have to go to the office,” I brushed aside the suggestion.

“Office? How can anyone not go for such a beautiful early morning ride to Colaba, and choose instead to go to the office? And, in any case, you leave for the office only by 9:30 a.m. Right? Don’t worry, we will be comfortably back by that time, he retorted, looking at me in such a manner as if I had just committed an inpardonable sin.

I still looked uncertain. So he added, “And obviously, me being drunk, it is you who is going to ride all the way.” He had come up with the trump card. My good friend is obviously aware of the intoxication that I am going through these days in the matters related to bikes. “And I can show you a little bit of fast and efficient gear changes as well,” he added further.

Needless to say, it was such a nice proposal that going to office fast became a distant second thing in my mind. I am still left with one sick leave for this financial year, and suddenly it occurred to me that I could always  use the same in case I did not feel like going to office after coming back from the ride.

So, we got ready. Fast. By 4:50, the Honda Unicorn had already been brought to life.

It was Santosh, who rode at first. When we were at the Western Express Highway, he showed me how fast the gears can be changed and how they can be put to other uses like slowing down the bike and providing it with additional power as and when required. It was against the back-drop of brightly illuminated dome of Hotel Sahara Star that I took up the front seat.

And then it was a smooth ride. The bike is in an urgent need of servicing and makes a lot of protesting noises in the city traffic where it must be kept in the lower gears. But soon, we were in the fifth gear, and it was moving smoother than a hot knife can move through butter.

Except for a few trucks and four wheelers, there was little traffic on the road. However, whatever little vehicles were there, they were all in good enough speed. The weather was cool and we could feel the early morning chill. The helmet that we use has long lost its plastic face cover and hence I could feel the air directly in my face.

Soon, we were cruising at a speed of around 78 kms/hour, my highest till now. And although I could not maintain it for long enough duration, it was still an exhilarating experience.

We would have reached Marine Drive in less than next 20-25 minutes, in case we had decided not to stop to have a chai and sutta break at one of those night-time mobile bicycle-shops that are so common in Mumbai; and in case we were not stopped at the early morning police naka, at a place somewhere near the Ray-Road railway station.

We had almost crossed the naka safely, when the hawaldar gave us the signal to stop. He asked me to show my driving license and the papers of the bike. When handed over, he looked at the license and asked, “Patna ka hai?

Yes dude, agar Patna likha hua hai to Patna ka hi hoga na?Saala. Ab to fatka lagne hi wala hai,” I said to myself.

When he had gone through the license and the registration papers of the bike and found them to be satisfactorily in order, he asked for the insurance. Paisa agar lena hai to le hi lega, bahana chahe jo bhi ho.

Forget insurance papers, Santosh has been riding the bike all over Mumbai for the past half year without a driving license. There was absolutely no chance that we could have carried that extra burden with us. Ultimately, it was only after he made us pump up Rs. 200 into the already over-sized Indian black economy that he let us go.

Soon we were at the ultimate end of the Marine Drive, the Land's End. We had reached the place fast. It was still dusky and the sun was yet to smile upon Mumbai. 

The Marine Drive. Sorry, the early morning Weapons of Mass Destruction were still to arrive. We were probably too early :-(


Santosh had Keema Pao at the Al-Rehmani Restaurant in Byculla (Close to Sewa Niketan). Even though he came here after a gap of almost a year, the head waiter still remembered him. May be, it was because of Vincent, the French guy we grew close to at the hostel. Vincent must be the only white guy that this restaurant has ever been host to and will ever be.


In front of Sewa Niketan. Pay your respects Mumbai! The new biker is in the town ;-). Santosh rode the bike from Marine Drive to the hostel, and I took it up from here till our place in Andheri. 

P.S. -
1) The journey on the back had nothing much to write about. Ultimately, not only did I have my longest ride till date, I also managed to reach the office well in time.
2) The incidents mentioned here took place on 1st of Feb. To read the story of the first half of the night, click here.

Friday, February 5, 2010

My Name is Neel. N-E-E-L. Neel.


Neel, Abhishek Neel.

Abhishek WHAT?

Abhishek Neel.

Nil? N-I-L. Nil?

No. Neel. N-E-E-L. Neel.

I almost hear the guy at the other end say – “What sort of name is that? Why Nil? Why not Lal, Pila, Hara, Baingani? Ye bhi koi naam hai?

This is a situation that I have faced quite a number of times in my life. My first name being probably the most common Indian male name (i.e. if we agree to eliminate the competition from say the Amits and a few others), most people don’t have any problem understanding it. It is the second part, NEEL, which always causes the problem.

When put together, I think my complete name does sound a little weird. I mean how can anyone be named Abhishek Neel? Of all the second names possible, why Neel?

To be on a safer side, I think I should clarify it at the beginning. Although I may sound as if I do not like my name, it is not so. My name is highly unique and I do love its uniqueness. A simple search of “Abhishek Neel” on Facebook throws up only 4 Abhishek Neels. Out of them,  it is only  me who seems to be genuine. The respective figures for Orkut are 12 and 4.

However, I do think it lacks a natural flow that a name should ideally possess. I think my name has an abrupt ending. It ends with a sudden full stop, as if something more was going to follow, but which has been debarred forcefully from doing so.

How did I come to have this name?

Well, at the time of my birth my mother and father were more or less certain that I was going to be a boy. So, they had not even thought of a female name for the baby that was going to arrive shortly.

The name Abhishek was picked up by my mother. My father had thought of Parimal, after the name of my mother Parineeta, which in turn happens to be inspired by the highly celebrated Bengali novel of the same name written by Shri Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay. Neel was added as the second name by Chhote Dadaji, my grandfather’s younger brother. This Neel actually comes from my father’s name Nil Ratan Baranwal, and hence is not my surname. How this idea came to my dadaji is something I don’t know. The practice of adding father’s name to the name of children is basically a South Indian and Maharashtrian practice, and certainly not a Bihari one.

So, it turns out that while I was close to being named on the name of my mother, I ended up having a name given by my mother and inspired by that of my father. 

Would "Parimal Neel" have been a better name? Probably. It would definitely have carried with it a bit both of my father as well as my mother. But that purpose is served equally well by Abhishek Neel, isn't it?

A few years back (2000 to be more precise); at the time of filling up the Class X Board Examination forms, I was so bothered with the apparent sudden ending of my name that I had almost approached the office of Principal Maharaj to get my name changed to Abhishek Nil Ratan Baranwal. That, I somehow thought, was a more complete name and that it had a smoother flow to it than plain Abhishek Neel. Not only this, it would also somehow have brought me closer to my father, the need for which I am feeling more and more now.

I was born nameless. I have lived 25 years of my life as Abhishek Neel. Would I die the same? Most probably yes, until and unless someday my mind goes completely off-track and I feel an urgent need to break something old and really important. It would definitely be great to break an old concept or an age-old tradition. It would be some sort of a revolt against the human society. And it would definitely be liberating in some sense.

But then as you progress in your life, a time does come when your name almost completely loses its significance. I remember, till very recently the name that I heard the most was my household name. That, of late, I do not hear much. That is, until and unless I happen to be talking with someone from my family, which may be at the max for, say 5-10 minutes on a daily average.

Didn’t someone say, “What’s in a name? A rose will smell as sweet even if it were called by some other name.”? I think someone was certainly right.


I passed out from Vidyapith in March, 2002. In the summer of 2006, I was in Kolkata to do an internship, when I decided to pay a visit to Belur Math, the global headquarters of the RamaKrishna Math and RamaKrishna Mission and the headquarters of my school. I intended not only to attend the evening Aarti, but also to meet Swami Suhitanandaji.

When I reached his office, I passed in a slip with my name written on it. When I was called in, the first question that he put to me was: “Neel na Lal?” And I shyly replied : “Neel Maharaj.”

The children of till Class VIth standard used to have a nice time in Suhitanandaji’s office in Deoghar. Everyday, in between the bathing time and the lunch time, a number of them used to assemble in his office and go through the really old, black and white photo collections of Vidyapith, while at the same time receiving Eclairs or some other toffee from him.

I also used to turn up there occasionally.

And everyday I turned up, he used to ask me the same question: “Neel na Lal?” to which I used to reply in the same shy manner: “Neel Maharaj.”

Suhitanandaji was the Secretary of Vidyapith till the middle of 1997. Then he was transferred to Belur Math as the organization needed his services in higher positions.

Between then and now, 9 long years had passed. But it seemed as if nothing had changed between us. He was the same person I remembered from my Vidyapith days, as humble and down to earth as always, although a bit older. And I was the same small Class VI student in his eyes. Of a huge 350-strong crowd of students, he still remembered my name.

I was over-joyed.

Was it due to the ancient Bharatiya Gurukula system of education (in which the students must stay with their teachers 24x7x(almost)365) that Vidyapith so diligently follows? Or was it due to the unconditional love and support that both the monastic and the non-monastic members of Vidyapith have always had towards us students?

Or was it due to the uniqueness of my name? And the unique question that he always put to me? 

P.S.: I know the last reason of Swami Suhitanandaji Maharaj remembering me - the uniqueness of my name - is not a very convincing one. When you stay for so long with your Gurus day in and day out, you both tend to remember each other life long. That is one beautiful bond that Vidyapith provides its students with. I am sure, whenever anyone of us visits the school even so many years down the line, almost everyone - and that includes even the guards, the gardeners and the Dining Hall and dairy workers - on campus recognises us and remembers us by our names. That, at least, is still the case with me.  However, I found this the best possible way to end this piece of writing; and so I went for it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pigeon Protest.

Clicked these photographs inside The HyperCity Mall, Malad a few days back.

Don't they seem to say? : "Humble-most part of the nature though we are, we still protest against the illogical encroachments that you self-proclaimed civilised humans keep making on our living spaces."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

(My Dear) Alka.

Meri zindagi mein Kanya Rashi abhi tak udit nahi hui hai - This is the pet reply I give whenever any of my friends asks me about the presence of any girl whatsoever in my life.
Leave dates apart. I am 25 and, till now, I have never ever been out with a girl for even a simple and completely harmless dinner. Worse, if I start counting the number of girls with whom I have had any "Substantial Conversation" in my quarter-of-a-century of existence, I am dead sure I will have to stop the exercise far before I reach the smallest 2 digit natural number possible. And “Substantial Conversation” here can very comfortably be defined at say around 50 sentences per month.
Simply put, I am afraid of girls. Very afraid.
It is strange, considering the fact that the first friend that I had in a girl was way back in Prep (or was it Nursery?). Or maybe, it is completely logical. Maybe the reason behind this is those 9 most formative years of my life that I spent in Vidyapith. If we agree not to take into consideration the approximately 150 bovines that we had in our dairy, the only female that we could see for days together was a very old lady, with hair so white they reflected all the sunrays that fell on them. She visited our campus almost daily to cut grass. However, if the enviable improvement that many of my fellow Vidyapith brethren have made in this field is any indication, it would be a gross mistake to put any fault on the part of good, old Vidyapith, instead of considering it more of a personal failure.
However, the purpose of this post is not to crib and be sad, but to celebrate the girl that I just mentioned above in passing.

I don’t even properly remember the class I was in when I met her. Was it Prep or was it still Nursery? Since the image that comes to my mind happens to be of the entrance gate of Pristine Children's School, it in all probability must have been Prep. Does that mean that North Point School, where I had my Nursery education, was devoid of girls? Can't say. In the image, I am clinging hard to my mother. Afraid that she is going to leave me alone in the school, I am crying desperately. And somehow this girl also happens to be standing there. Her parents have already left. And God knows why she is consoling me and telling that it would be fine, that it is the first day of school for her as well.

She is Alka.

Simply Alka.

I don’t know her surname, and chances are that I never knew it at all. When you are so small, finding out complete names of your friends is certainly the last thing on your mind.

I remember vividly the classroom where we used to have our  lessons and the small playground outside, where, during the recess, children used to play and have their tiffins. What I don't remember is what she really looked like. Did she have a circular face? Or a long one? Was she fair? Or dark? Or was it some shade in the middle? I also don’t remember us sharing our tiffin boxes or water bottles, and other stuff like pencils, erasers and sharpeners. But I am sure such exchanges must have happened between us.

Two years down the line, I got admission in Kendriya Vidyalaya. The day we said goodbye to each other, there was no exchange of any gifts, addresses or contact numbers.

Or photographs.

The children in those days still behaved like children. Not like grown-ups, as they do now. Those were the days when childhood had still not lost its innocence.


(My Dear) Alka,

(Should I address you as a Miss or as a Mrs., in case you have already found yourself an eligible life-partner and are happily married?)

Yours is the only name that I remember from the first three years of my school. And you are the only girl with the name Alka that I know. Isn't that strange? Especially because your name is so simple it appears to be one of those many Indian female names that should have had been more common?

After I left Pristine Children's School, I went to Kendriya Vidyalaya, from where I shifted to Vidyapith in Class IV. In the April of the year that I passed out from Vidyapith (2002), I decided to hunt down my friends from my previous schools. It had been 9 long years since I had met even a single one of them. So, I picked up my bicycle and followed the trail that my school rickshaw used to take. Surprisingly, I was able to dig out quite a good number of them. Most of them were still living in the same houses as they were 9 years earlier. At that time, I wondered whether I should try locating you down as well?

But then I dropped the idea. I did so because:

a. You being a girl, probably it would not have looked decent enough to hunt you down after a gap of almost 14-15 years.

b. I was not sure whether Pristine Childern's School maintained the records of its old students. I don't think it does. It was just one of the many round-the-corner schools, which simply should not be expected to put in that much extra effort to maintain old records. And that, alas, was the only starting point I had from which I could have started my search.

c. Most important, somewhere down under I had this fear that probably you will not even be able to recall my name. It would then have turned into a very awkward situation. Sometimes I wonder : Is it only the boys who tend to remember so fondly the girls they met in their life? Or does the same apply to the girls as well? Again, you happen to be the first girl to whom I am putting down this question. And I do not intend to get an answer.

Anyways, I am pretty sure you must have grown into a very beautiful and confident young lady by this time and must have carved out a good, satisfying and well-paying career for yourself.

It would be nice if we could meet up some time.

But then, we both know that the chances of such a meeting are next to non-existent. And in case, if I do happen to meet some 'Alka' in my life again, be rest assured I am not going to try finding out whether that 'Alka' is the same as you. In the matter of girls, I have turned up into a completely unconfident and confused young man, you see.

I don’t know what else there is that I can write to you.

I don’t have any photograph of yours and I am completely unable to affix a face to the empty frame. Thankfully, at least I do remember your name. And trust me; this name of yours is going to hang out with me for my whole life.

You remain, after all, the first friend that I ever had in a girl.

Love and Prayers,

(Yours) Abhishek.

Alka - The frame is going to remain empty. For eternity.

(Alka koi kalpana ki udan nahi, ek haqikat hai. Wo thi, aur Insha Allah aj bhi hai. Farq tab aur ab mein bas itna sa hai ki tab wo mere saath thi; aj 700 crore logon ki is bhid mein kahin gum ho gayi hai. Aur lakh koshishon ke bawzud main use dhundh nahi sakta.)

Monday, February 1, 2010

I have lost my Rhythm with Pen.

Thoughts were easy to come. Words - even they were not a big deal. It was the sentences that would simply not take their desired shapes.

It was 2 a.m. when Santosh woke me up. He was drunk. Both the booze that we had purchased in the evening and the Arsenal-Manchester United match that he was seeing had finished. He needed some more booze for the night. And for that, he needed some cash. And so he woke me up. So, in the pretty late hours of the night, we went to the Citibank ATM at the Tunga restaurant near Udyog Sarathi.

On our return with the needed stock, I went to bed. I really needed to get myself some sleep. I had not slept the whole Friday night due to the pain and the whole day of Saturday had been spent in the hospital. Worse, tomorrow was Monday and I had to go to that hell which corporate morons so euphemistically call office.

But sleep was not going to oblige. So, after struggling in bed for around an hour or so, I gave up. I woke-up and decided to write something for my blog. There have been quite a number of thoughts in my head lately that I must pen down, unless I am comfortable risking their complete loss.

Now, the problem at Santosh’s place is that these guys don’t have a proper laptop. Santosh had one. But he had to submit it back to his office. Remember? He has resigned and is enjoying his days of complete freedom these days. Manoj’s laptop, I discovered, has most of its keys dysfunctional and hence the best use that it can be put to is watching movies and other craps that you might be interested in. As for Sibin, this bhai sahab has gone to Cochin and as it appears his laptop has gone with him as well.

So, at last I decided to jot down my thoughts on a sheet of paper with one of the pens that I could find lying around.

It was here that the problem manifested itself. The sentences would simply not come out. The pen, it seemed would simply not run on the paper in any meaningful manner whatsoever. It seemed I had lost my rhythm with the pen.

It must have been at least two years since I last created something innovative and beautiful with my pen. Last two years, I have been completely out of touch with that beautifully simple, age-old writing equipment. True, I have been using one of those in the office all through these days. But such use has been restricted to jotting down some small illogical pseudo-legal notes or other equally illogical numerical figures. Nothing more, nothing less.

So, in the middle of the night, here I was, discovering that I have completely lost my beautiful rhythm with my pen. And with it, I felt as if I had lost my simplicity. And innocence.

Why did this happen is a question that must be answered.

Is this the result of being surrounded too much by the modern day technological gadgets? Or is it the lack of open spaces, great expanses of sky overhead and green trees all around in a city as over congested as Mumbai? Or is it that I have been consumed completely by the illogical, money making rat-race of the corporate world (which has taken me closer to Lakshmi, but at the same time has vastly increased my distance from Saraswati)? Or is it simply the fact that I have lost the art of writing beautiful, sensible paragraphs?

P.S. - The incidents described in the post occured on the night of 31st January, 2010. Ultimately, I was not able to write down anything at all. At 4:30 a.m., I and Santosh decided that it was a nice morning to go to Colaba on a bike. And so, by 4:50, we were well on our way to South Mumbai. That deserves a separate post all together, which I will post in near future.

Bhujiawala Gets Lifer.

Haldiram Bhujiawala proprietor Prabhu Shankar Agarwal has been sentenced to life imprisonment by a fast track court in Kolkata. And this he gets not for putting extra mirchi in bhujias ;-)

Don't believe me? Read the full article here.