Sunday, November 24, 2013

Journalists from The Hindu, The Week, Greater Kashmir bag awards – it’s the age of the young reporter

Journalists of The Hindu, The Week and the Greater Kashmir newspaper shared the first three prizes respectively for the competition for the best print article on the theme, Violence against Health Care Services and Personnel - Operating in the Face of Danger organised by the Press Institute of India and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Anumeha Yadav of The Hindu won the first prize, Mini Thomas of The Week and Imran Muzaffar of Greater Kashmir shared jointly the second prize. The winners were chosen from some 30 published articles short-listed from nearly 40 entries received.

I was delighted to present the awards to the winners at a function in New Delhi earlier this week, with Mary Werntz, head of Regional Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The awards, in its sixth year, are meant to recognise articles highlighting a humanitarian concern and published in an Indian national or regional newspaper or magazine. The jury comprised Pamela Philipose, director and editor-in-chief of Women's Features Service, A.J. Phillip, senior journalist, Dr

Jaya Shreedhar, founding member of the Centre for Security Analysis, and P.N. Vasanti, director of the Centre for Media Studies.

I thought the evening belonged to the Young Indian Reporter. Today, the reporter has to brave many odds to get a story in print or on television or online. The situation is of course not as bad as it is in Mali, for example, where Radio France Internationale journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon were kidnapped on November 2 and killed. They were on special assignment two weeks ahead of legislative elections in the country, when armed men abducted them. In Ethiopia, five journalists were imprisoned under the country’s anti-terrorism laws and world media organiosations have called for their unconditional release. In Kenya, a proposed new media law risks imposing severe financial sanctions against journalists, publishers and broadcasters for breaching a code of conduct, and could even bar journalists from working.

Compared to all that, the media in India has far greater freedom; perhaps too much of it. However, reporting from Kashmir or the Northeast or the Naxalite-Maoist-insurgency-affected central belt is not easy. And then there are other dangers, such as the one young Tarun Sehrawat faced – deep in India’s heartland. He died due to cerebral malaria and other illnesses. A young reporter so filled with the passion of bringing stories to the fore, his life snuffed out in days. The Tehelka story that is doing the rounds now is an example of yet another kind of pressure women in journalism face.

So, despite all this, when young reporters risk their lives to bring stories to light, we must salute them. Their efforts also symbolise all that is good in journalism – honesty, hard work, truth-telling. When an Anumeha Yadav reporting from Chhattisgarh’s interior, or Mini Thomas from Karnataka’s or Imran Muzaffar from Kashmir’s want their voice to be heard, they echo from the cliffs and mountain tops and valleys.  

As I presented the awards, I felt humbled. Imran so badly wanted to speak about the conditions in which he operated but time constraints did not allow that. Now I just wish we had given him some time.

Pictures show the award winners (Anumeha in the centre); Dr Jaya making a point at the panel discussion; me with the others (Pamela, sadly, is out of the picture) for a photo-op, and later with a group of journalists from Kashmir and Surnder Oberoi, ICRC’s communications head (extreme right). 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Madras Week 2013: Stars who made a real difference

As we have been seeing the past few years, Madras Week this year (August 18-25), too, soon became Madras Fortnight and eventually almost a Madras Month, with more than 100 programmes/ events/ across the city.

This year was particularly memorable for my good friend Harry MacLure, comic book illustrator, cartoonist and graphic designer. His film, Going Away, was screened to packed houses at the Press Institute of India and the Madras Club. The film is set in an Anglo-Indian milieu in the Madras of old. It’s about a fictional Anglo-Indian family coming to terms with the possibility of emigration to Australia and having to leave loved ones behind in India. The Anglo-Indians – A 500-Year History, a book that is a must-buy for all those with more than a passing interest in history, authored by S. Muthiah and Harry, was released at the Hotel President in front of more than 400 people.

One of the high points at the Press Institute (there wasn’t even space to squat on the floor) was when Nityanand Jayaraman made a brilliant presentation backed by a lot of perspective on Chennai’s vanishing wetlands, natural events and disasters. Development is all fine, he said, but not at the cost of destroying Nature or by upsetting its laws. His presentation was finely complemented by some magnificent pictures (mostly depressing in the second part) taken by Shaju John, freelance photojournalist who has worked with several reputable publications.

I finally breathed a huge sigh of relief when the final programme at the institute went off without a hitch. Moderating the catchy subject, Madras – the good, bad and ugly, was S. Muthiah. All the speakers did a fairly good job as the discussions weaved through (mainly through the prism of newspapers in Chennai) the various issues and aspects confronting journalism today - paid news, corporate ownership of newspapers, credibility, citizen journalism, advertising and the commercial, as well as the quality of the fare on offer. 

However, for me, the star during the four days of programmes at the Press Institute was Kadambari Badami, an active member of Transparent Chennai who spoke about envisioning a pedestrian-friendly and ‘walkable’ city, through participatory planning, public-government partnerships, citizen empowerment, and the Nanganallur and KK Nagar projects. She made an impassioned plea in the end to the youngsters in the audience and elsewhere to do their bit for the city and make it more livable, even going as far as admonishing them with, “Shame on all of you!” It was probably her frustration coming out in the end, finding little support for her initiative from people her age. More power to her.

But there was even a brighter star that lit the horizon during Madras Week around Thiruverkkadu Road, Seneerkuppam. The Pupil Saveetha Eco School was making a debut in the celebrations. And what a debut! The school organised weeklong programmes that it collectively styled Madras Memoirs. There were a series of inter-school and intra-school events and competitions that highlighted the transition of the city from Madrasapattinam to Chennai. Reflections showcased exhibits from a bygone era - a gramophone, telephones, a hand-woven sari, miniature brass items and vehicles, photographs, old coins, old documents  and postage stamps.

It was nostalgia for many visitors as they had a close look at the pictures that adorned the walls. Another hall had charts, models and photographs that the students had collected over a period. Overall, the event helped them learn more about the city and also gave them a sense of belonging, a sense of pride that they live in a city steeped in history. Madras is after all the first city of Modern India.

The person who made all this possible at The Pupil, almost single-handedly, was Dolly Mohan, who does not like the arc lights and is happy working quietly in the shadows. But it was from those shadows that the brightest spark this Madras Week emerged.  Not only did the school host the weeklong programmes, it also opened up the events to cluster and neighbourhood schools.

Dolly says she initially dreaded taking up the onerous task but as she got into the groove she began enjoying being a part of the old and the new. She’s been in Chennai for more than two decades but, like many, she was ignorant about how the city had evolved and grown. Now having been entrusted with the responsibility of organising the events at the school, she researched hard and found a magical path leading to the past. In the process she rediscovered a small part of the rich legacy of Madrasapattinam. She knew it all amounted to only scratching the surface but she had made a great start. “The quiz, the photographs, the relics – everything added on to my personal knowledge of Madrasapatinam. Wish we had a time machine that would take us back into those days when life was so peaceful compared to the frenetic one we lead today,” she says.

Being a lover of history, I can empathise with what Dolly feels and says. As a catalyst/ coordinator of Madras Day/Week celebrations, it’s people like Dolly who make you feel proud, who motivate you to ‘go for it’ one more time… More power to her, too.

What was also significant at The Pupil was that Saveetha, who runs the school, was herself enthused and that enthusiasm motivated her team. The school is now looking at focusing more on history and geography in the lower classes. I would suggest devoting a period to Madras and its history in classes 5, 6 and 7. Nanditha Krishna has already done it at the school run by the CP Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation on Eldams Road, and Mrs Y.G. Parthasarathy has said that the PSBB Schools would do likewise from the next academic year.  All this bodes well for the future. 

The pictures of Madras Week celebrations at The Pupil, and there are many of them, can be seen at The Pupil website (

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Sunday breakfast with Rotarians, and a slice of heritage

Sundays are usually lazy days, at least that is how you feel in the early part of the morning. So, you don’t expect a packed attendance at a Rotary breakfast meeting. There were hardly 15 Rotarians when I arrived in time for breakfast – idli, vada, pongal, sambar, coffee – about 8.30 am. But in the half hour following, the number doubled and by the time the hosts draped a ponnadai around my shoulders it was house-full.

The members were made up of a motley group comprising advocates, professors, builders, teachers, businessmen, students and others. I was introduced by an elderly member and I noticed she had taken pains to scribble two full pages, adding copiously to an email I had sent her about my background. In the event she made several errors, but on occasions such as it is best to let them pass.

A sumptuous breakfast is unlikely to keep you awake for long when you are seated comfortably and as it turned out there were a couple of heads suddenly dropping on shoulders and then springing back to attention. But these occurrences were momentary and by and large the audience was wide awake. That was enough motivation as I launched into the romance of old – of Andrew Cogan, Francis Day and Beri Thimmappa, of Madraspattnam, Chennapattnam and George Town, of St Mary’s Church in the Fort, the oldest British building in Madras, and of some of the early institutions established by governors like Elihu Yale.

And then, about how during the height of Queen Victoria’s reign, the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture was considered the form best suited to convey imperial majesty in the Indian empire, and about the genius of Robert Chisholm, Henry Irwin, and Paul Benfield before them.

About Senate Hall, its classic restoration and sad present state, about Bharat Insurance Building or Kardyl Building built for WE Smith, pharmacists, a classic example of neglect, and about the fate that awaits the Royapuram Railway Station, the oldest in India after the one at Bori Bunder was long gone. Even as Mumbai’s VT and the Niligiri Mountain Railway are preserved as heritage structures.

About the Metro Rail continuing to create a stir in the city on a regular basis – with CSI Wesley Church the latest, and earlier with a building in the Teachers Training College campus in Saidapet, with P. Orr & Sons before that, and many other smaller instances.

About the need for a comprehensive Heritage Act without which buildings will continue to be razed. Like a 164-year-old church in Coimbatore was, and how part of the Rangammal Palace in Madurai was.

I thought I’d get into the details about Khalas Mahal (the one bright spark now) and the Chepauk Palace when I noticed the elderly lady who introduced me nodding her head gently. My time was up and the Rotarians wanted to say their goodbyes and leave. They had given me an hour (much more than the allotted or usual time given to speakers) and now they wanted to catch up on fellowship. For a Sunday morning it wasn't so bad after all, I thought.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A meeting with the legendary B.G. Verghese

Some names keep floating in your mind from an early age. And even if you didn't know when you were six or seven or eight, what these names meant, you knew they related to some great people. Jawaharlal Nehru, for instance. Nehru was a name I remember my father and uncle others in their group talk about – I must have been about four then or, may be, five. I still remember our maidservant, Veshu (God bless her wherever she is), in Calcutta showing me pictures in The Statesman, and pointing to the Moomins, a comic strip that was quite popular. There were several other names – Edwn Aldrin, Elvis Presley, Rajesh Khanna, Bradman – that meant something special during my formative years of childhood.

One such name was that of B.G. Verghese. I remember my brother-in-law mentioning Verghese’s name while reading The Statesman. It was probably in 1975, when Verghese received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for outstanding contribution to journalism. His name quite possibly must have cropped up when there were endless discussions at my home about the Emergency, when Verghese lost his editorship of the Hindustan Times for daring to criticise Indira Gandhi, to whom he was information advisor in the late 1960s. So, the name stuck.

Years later, when I enrolled for a course in Journalism, B.G. Verghese’s name came to the fore when A.S. Padmanabhan, who took Writing classes for us, spoke eloquently about Verghese’s thundering editorial in the Hindustan Times: Kanchenjunga, Here We come.

Years later again, two colleagues of mine presented me with Verghese’s Warrior of the Fourth Estate, a biography on Ramnath Goenka.

So, Boobli George Verghese has been a sort of constant in my life ever since I can remember. But I had never in my widest dreams thought about connecting with him. Life as they say has strange ways. When I started editing Vidura, one of the journals produced by the Press Institute of India, it suddenly occurred to me to send a soft copy to Verghese. I was more than pleasantly surprised to receive his reply, thanking me and wishing me well. I then sent him soft copies of the other journals – Grassroots and RIND Survey.

I was in seventh heaven when Verghese one day sent me an email saying he valued the contribution I was making, and editing three journals was quite creditable. I couldn’t believe that a person of his stature, former editor of the Hindustan Times and the Indian Express, and a sort of doyen in the field, could be so generous. To every email I sent him, he would respond. I found this quite remarkable, considering that most editors and journalists today hardly ever bother to reply (at least from my experience).

A few months ago, I invited Verghese to inaugurate a two-day workshop on national security in Bangalore that the Press Institute of India had organised. He had earlier spared time to send me valuable inputs regarding the subjects we had chosen for talks. Verghese agreed to come and I had his tickets booked. At last, I thought, I would be able to meet the legendary figure about whom I had heard so much since childhood. However, it was not to be. Verghese’s wife had a fall and Verghese himself was down with a bad back.

Two days before the workshop I received a call on my mobile phone. It was a stentorian voice with clear, excellent diction. He was sorry, the flight tickets would have to be cancelled, he said. I was downcast but managed to respond and wished him speedy recovery. We at the institute were all disappointed that Verghese was not coming.

Our correspondence continued. A few weeks ago I received his email saying he would be in Chennai to speak at the diamond jubilee celebrations of the Triplicane Cultural Academy at the PS Senior Secondary School Dakshinamoorthy Auditorium and that he would be happy to meet me. I marked the date in my calendar and made a mental note as well.

Finally, yesterday, after his scintillating speech, I met B.G. Verghese on stage and got his book, First Draft: Witness to the Making of Modern India, autographed. It was an unforgettable moment. The hall by then (past 8.30 pm) was deserted except for a close friend of mine who waited patiently. Tired, after his hour-long speech and replying to questions from the audience, I sensed he wished to get back and retire for the night. I did not press for much time with him but said I’d try and meet him in Delhi when I visited next. It was a humbling experience and it struck me that for all his frailties at his age B.G. Verghese was still a giant of a man.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Capitation and capitulation - that's 'value-based education' for you

My earlier blog was about how it is best to let children pursue their own areas of interest, for often-times it is passion that helps you find your true vocation in life. Now past my prime, I feel I have missed my vocation. I’d have probably done much better as a teacher or a travel writer or perhaps a bookseller.

Well, I received an email from a rather miffed mother, stating that the money she paid as capitation fee or whatever was not paid to fulfil her dreams or anything of the kind. It was only to fulfil her daughter’s wish to go to the US of A. And taking up Engineering was the easier route. She wonders why she should be ashamed to be called a Sanskrit scholar’s mother. After all, she hails from a family of Sanskrit scholars; her grandfather was a highly respected pundit. And her daughter is the only one in the family of today’s generation who has an inclination and passion for the subject.

Now that I have been admonished and corrected to a point, let me say that it is not my intention to base stories on other people’s lives but, certainly, as somebody who takes more than a casual interest in things happening around him, I am sure I can put forth my points of view based on conversations and experiences. That’s what any form of writing is all about, isn't it?

In any case, my intention really was to point to the lack of interest in the Arts and the Humanities thanks mainly to courses being linked to jobs, overseas opportunities and even marriage prospects, and to parents and teachers being unable to guide children properly. In this case, of course, we must give it to the young student for wanting to pursue Sanskrit in a world where many people have even forgotten the subject exists. And to her mother for having taken a bold and practical stand to ensure that the best turns out for her daughter.

My intention was also to point to how parents are forced to pay huge sums as capitation fee to colleges and institutions of higher education in our country. Are we prepared to sacrifice our children’s future by not making such payments for which you don't even get a proper receipt? I suppose not. So, it is perhaps symptomatic of a wider malaise in society. But then it is strange, isn't it, that such goings on haven’t come to the fore in the media in all these years.

I wasn't surprised, therefore, to read in today’s newspapers (talk about timeliness!) about IT raids being conducted at several premises of one of the so-called leading colleges in Chennai and roundabout. What started off as a school and went on to become a college has today diversified interests – hotels, hospitals, transport, media and entertainment. Quite an empire really.

In education especially, it's quiet, hard, diligent and honest work that wins the day, and for that you need to be publicity-shy and less commercially minded. Sadly in our country, there aren't too many who fit the bill. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

When Engineering scored over Sanskrit...

In my younger days I often used to be flummoxed by the question, “What do you plan to do?” or “Have you decided what you want to do in life?” Because I never really had an answer. Although life was far, far more simpler then, I hadn't been able to decide whether I should pursue a career in Accountancy or one in Advertising, or whether I should seek a scholarship abroad. Going abroad for study was a huge thing in those days and it needed the determination and skills that I didn't quite possess. Also, there was the thought of leaving family and friends at the back of my mind. So, dreams of landing on foreign shores evaporated quickly and I was content enrolling for Commerce in the city where I grew up. The fact that it was one of Calcutta’s best colleges added to my sense of satisfaction.

There was no persuasion from either of my parents to take up something specific; neither of them even visited my college. At that age you were expected to do all that was needed to get in. There were not too many courses. You either opted for Science or Commerce or Arts. I had some skills in drawing and was tempted to enrol for Arts but chose Commerce, driven by the pack. There was the assuring thought that my uncle would help find a decent job for me. He finally didn't. It was actually a blessing in disguise. For I learnt to stand on my own two feet and after starting off as a management trainee at Brooke Bond’s never really looked back. That of course was my best job, one that I dumped to get back to city life, a decision I rue to this day.

Memories of my college days sprung up from almost nowhere when a close friend told me a few weeks ago that she was intent on getting her only daughter into an engineering college although the girl’s interest lay in pursuing Sanskrit. The mother had her eyes focused on the future – if her daughter was to pursue higher education or work in the US of A, a Sanskrit degree would do her no good. At least that was what the mother felt. To fulfil her (mother) dreams, she paid Rs 7 lakh or more. No receipt, mind you; amount not refundable. All the money came from her savings. She had to gnaw into her fixed deposits.

The story left me wondering why many parents and teachers today are not content leaving their children to do what they want. My daughter wanted to do Psychology ever since she was in Class 7 or 8 and that is what she ended up doing. Am sure, left to herself, this girl would have happily settled for Sanskrit and probably made a mark some way in the future. Not that she can’t with Engineering… Of course, the mother wanted the very best for her daughter and is keen to enrol her for a Sanskrit correspondence course. 

However, at the end of the day, it’s all about jobs and money nowadays, not the love or passion for a particular subject. No wonder then that the Arts and the Humanities are so neglected! It’s why our social fabric has crumbled beyond recognition. Because what these streams can teach, in terms of becoming a well-rounded and wholesome human being, few others can. I now wish I had taken up the Arts. Sadly, I can't turn the clock back. But may be some day I will enrol for a course in Literature. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

When merit and hard work don't really pay dividends

Although I've spent almost 30 years in Chennai, I've never really understood how the education system here works. When I graduated with a first class and topped the Commerce course in college in Calcutta, I don’t remember having scored more than 70 per cent. Later, when I topped a course in Journalism and bagged the best student award, I don’t think I averaged more than 65 per cent, with probably about 61 per cent or so in English. Of course, those were different times and far younger days. I never looked at school and college marks as a parent. It was only much later, when my daughter was preparing for her CBSE Board exams that I began taking a little interest.

I was stunned and flummoxed when I learnt that students had to score more than 95 per cent marks to stand any realistic chance of making it on merit to reputable colleges. If you scored in the 70s you were considered unfit to pursue further study; it was an indication that you could start thinking about doing business. Scoring in the 80s was not much help either unless you had the influence or the money power to boot. And if you just tipped the 90s, it was like so far and yet so near… The one word I kept hearing on and off was ‘centum’. I soon came to learn it meant 100 per cent. There were indeed students, many of them, who easily scored ‘centums’, almost at will. No Utopia this. And for them, Heaven’s gate was always open.

I had never heard of such happenings in Calcutta where I studied and grew up and graduated. I was curious to find out if things had changed in the City of Joy as well. But no, it really hadn't, my sister and other friends confirmed. There, of course, it was the other extreme – you were lucky if you were called to attend the convocation. I still haven’t attended mine because I wasn't informed, or possibly Calcutta University is still to hold the convocation of my batch. Who knows! I realised I didn't have a degree certificate when I was refused admission into the Journalism course by the dean who couldn't hold back his laughter when I told him that I had the mark sheet and that was enough. It was then that I decided a visit to the university was a must. How I managed to get the degree certificate I do not quite remember, but, yes, I did manage the impossible.

Anyway, to double-check, I called up an uncle in Mumbai. He was a senior academician and I asked him whether there was this problem of paying hefty fees (upwards of Rs 8 and 10 lakh and not refundable in most cases) and not getting admission into a decent college even if you had scored well past 80. He said there was no such thing in Maharashtra and students by and large were given a fair deal.

In her Plus-2 exams, my daughter scored 89 per cent. She couldn't get into the 90s bracket because she was petrified of science and math. She had wanted to do Psychology ever since she was in Class 7 or 8. But despite her fairly good marks it took a Herculean effort to get her admitted into a reputable college. She got in as the principal’s candidate! She of course went on to do her master’s in the UK and now works for a multinational, but that’s another story.

I sometimes wonder at the plight of those many, many bright students who neither have such luck nor the money power to pursue higher education. What a burden on their chests! Apart from the marking scheme, reservation has played spoilsport. There is no also doubt that parents and teachers are to blame. More in the next.

Friday, April 05, 2013

The art of viewing figures: TOI and The Hindu show how

 For those in the media it’s always interesting to learn how newspapers or television channels are faring, who the movers and shakers are, what the buzz is like, what the grapevine is, what the managements are up to, etc. So, a headline on the front page such as ‘TOI bigger than next 3 papers put together’ draws your attention immediately and once you start reading you try not to miss any word.

It’s not strange any more to see how newspapers or news publishing organisations use surveys to their advantage, the objective being to impress on the reader who is King. What they don’t understand or really much care about is that readers today are a very discerning lot, much more than in the past, and all readers are not fools. What they also seemingly care very little about is facts being portrayed in the right way and bringing clarity to such pieces.

The Indian Readership Survey (IRS) came up with its findings for the last quarter of 2012. It is a survey that has come to be accepted as largely fair by media houses. The challenge nowadays is how to use the findings to your advantage. Damn the reader, or, sometimes, damn the real picture. It’s ironic because news is supposed to be sacred and when you use facts and figures to suit yourself you are not being truthful enough. 

According to the TOI story, the survey found that TOI’s average issue readership (readership and circulation do not mean the same thing) of over 7.6 million dwarfed HT’s 3.8 million, Hindu’s 2.2 million and Telegraph’s 1.3 million. The report went on to say that in India’s eight largest cities (those with a population of more than 5 million), TOI’s readership was almost 50 per cent more than the combined tally of the other three papers. It pointed out that in Tamil Nadu, TOI’s combined readership in Chennai, Coimbatore and Madurai had increased by 5000 readers over the earlier quarter, while during the same period The Hindu had lost 15000 readers, with Chennai accounting for 11000. The story went on and on about TOI’s leadership in several other cities.

The following day, The Hindu (as I expected it would) came up with its counter-version on Page 1. It was a relatively much smaller and weak piece about how it was No. 1 in the South and “rising” in the National Capital Region. The opening two sentences seemed to have been carefully crafted: “The Hindu continues to be the most popular English language daily newspaper in South India, staying ahead of competitors by a huge margin, according to just-released findings… it also retains its position at the national level with a readership figure of 21.64 lakh (the 2.2 million figure in the TOI report). The report added that The Hindu continued to dominate the Chennai market with a readership of 5.13 lakh, its figure adding up to more than the cumulative figures of the other English dailies.” The last two paragraphs in the report talked about the IRS and what it meant.

If the TOI report was true and The Hindu had indeed lost 11000 readers in Chennai, how could it “dominate” the market in the city! Or was “dominate” used to describe the lead it had over TOI in the same market?

Now, this is extremely clever when you consider that most families buy only one newspaper. So, effectively, you don't know the other side of the story. But those reading both TOI and The Hindu, as in this case, must have been a confused lot. You can confuse readers and yet be a winner. The reader will never get the actual figures in such reports. TOI will never tell you what its circulation figures are in Chennai, neither will The Hindu, or any other newspaper for that matter. All they will say is this paper gained so many more readers or the readership grew by so much per cent, or it is staying ahead of competition by a huge margin, etc.

Sometimes, it is best not to respond or react to a story if you don’t have much to talk about or if you choose to be rather vague. The Hindu’s effort in this case is an example. The headline mentioned “rising in NCR”, but it was hardly expanded in the text. All there was, was just one line saying: “It has also made impressive strides in the National Capital Region.” What were these strides like? A rather weak-kneed approach to a counter, which showed little sense of domination.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Home sweet home...

Shifting houses isn’t easy. I can say that with some authority. In the past 25 years I must have moved to a dozen houses. Some of them were homes in the sense we know homes to be; others weren’t quite as such. Now that I’ve finally moved to what can be called a permanent home (no, am not talking about an old-age home, or even something beyond that), I can breathe a sigh of relief. 

However, shifting even to a permanent home isn’t easy. There are workers all over the place. There is dust and grime. And sound. Terrible sound when the carpenters are at work. The generator doesn’t work, not as yet. The clotheslines haven’t been strung up on the terrace yet. Space for car parking has been allotted but in the midst of all the ‘action; who really cares! So, even if you have been allotted one, you can’t do a damn if you find six two-wheelers taking up ‘your’ space. You can’t call out  to the manager in-charge because he hardly cares, now that you have paid all your dues, including that darned ‘service tax’ that billowed into more than Rs 60000, and started ‘living’ on one of the floors built with sweat and toil. 

Then of course there are other earthly creatures such as mosquitoes who care two hoots about your well-being. They say you find many more of these daredevil winged creatures in and around construction sites. Protecting yourself with a net up on the third floor is really not my idea of ‘living’ and man-made concoctions such as Advanced Good Knight are no match for what God in his wisdom had fathomed and created. 

Overall, it’s a sort of losing battle. It’s been so at least until now. Without BSNL and broadband and Wi-fi, what are you left with anyway! A dongle that just hasn’t learnt how to behave? That’s exactly what I’m stuck with at the moment, actually. In the midst of all my frustration I’m slowly learning to be patient (oh my!) and at some crazy moments, even patting some BSNL staff or the other on the back. Fibre-optic cables is what I’ll get, they say.  And for sure, there is a waiting period – only thing is, even they can’t tell how long it will take. So much for efficiency and matching the Chinese! 

Today, I picked up a mobile phone (dual SIM) for our cook – she’s such a darling, she deserves one. The guy at the counter showed me a Chinese mobile with a triple-SIM facility. What’s Micromax India (the so-called 12th largest handset manufacturer in the world) up to? It’s some of these hardy phones that sell, not the A27s and the A35s or the Canvas 2. 

Whatever it is, one thing is certain. It’s difficult not being able to communicate. My mother is waiting patiently for the landline to be installed. I am waiting for broadband and Wi-fi. There are two generations that divide us. But there is still the waiting and the desperation sometimes, to want to connect to people you care for and  love – in her case, this love connotes something else (siblings and the like), and in mine, well, less said the better!

Anyway, it's good to be back (blogging) after two months. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

When sometimes even courage is not enough

In retirement, he remained fairly active, finding avenues to keep himself busy and be productive, one of which was writing, the other, speaking to students in colleges about rural marketing, a subject close to his heart. After all, the advertising agency he established years ago specialises in rural marketing. He had authored a book and in it he mentions how courage was his constant companion, how it took him places in his career – he was one of the youngest to head an ad agency in India. Retirement meant spending quality time with his family. However, even as everything seemed smooth-sailing, tragedy struck unexpectedly like it usually does. His wife was diagnosed with the dreaded C.

Unfortunately, as it happens with many cancer patients, the disease was diagnosed late, when metastasis had already set in.  Several tests conducted, many of them intrusive and painful, showed that the primary area was located in the ascending colon and the disease had spread to the liver and lungs.  Looking at the CT scan report, the family doctor and three doctors at the Adyar Cancer Institute where she was registered for treatment said no cure was possible because hers was an inoperative case.  All they could do was provide palliative care. Tibetian and Ayurvedic doctors were consulted. They, too, agreed that cure was impossible. The family lived on hope, on a miracle.

Except for the occasional mild cough she had during the past few months there was no indication of anything alarming. He recalls how she had withstood the rigours of a holiday they spent together in Kashmir just six weeks before the diagnosis. It was sudden weight loss, of four kilos in a month, which led to a visit to the doctor.

While he looked after her physical and emotional needs, he deeply regrets not being able to do anything about the bone-rattling cough.  “There was no way I could take over the pain so that she would feel relieved. She had to suffer all by herself. During the day time, she had other distractions to keep her mind away from her body, nights were always nightmares.”  Though pain relievers helped her to some extent, they had a limited time span.  In the middle of the night, she would get up writhing in pain, turning and twisting until the next dose started working.

She underwent six cycles of chemotherapy. As one of her lungs was filled with fluid, doctors had to aspirate before therapy. The process was painful.  The only good news was she showed no side-effects. But even as doctors were debating whether further tests should be carried, her condition suddenly deteriorated. The disease had invaded her bones and brain. She started becoming weaker and found it difficult to consume food and medicines. There were bouts of breathlessness, speaking difficulty, blurring of vision and hallucination. That is when he decided to bring her home. The three children and grandchildren tried to keep her in good cheer and showered on her all the love and affection they could. And so did he. But the end came sooner than they expected, a few days into the New Year. She was only 61 and had not wanted to die. Once again, it would be courage that would help keep him afloat.