A Goof and a Tarnished Golf Trophy

They were beginners.

They had purchased old; second hand golf sets with assorted clubs with worn-out grips and dilapidated bags. They played with old balls, reserving the new, and the better ones only for the putting greens. They used the oldest ball in their bag, on the fifth tee for the fear of losing a good one in the water hazard. They had not been exposed to the wisdom of playing with a new ball.

They could strike a ball clean from the tee––not muffing it––just about fifty per cent of the times. But only on half of those contacts, the ball would take a decent flight and land in the fairway. A mini celebration would ensue every time their approach shots from within a hundred yards range landed on the green––that happened as rarely as the solar eclipses. They took, on an average, not less than two and a half strokes on the putting green to hole out. They played for honour; betting only once in a blue moon with breakfast of eggs and toasted bread with jam and butter at stake. Ignorant of the rules, they played with consensus until one of them picked up an old out-dated booklet of golf rules from a street vendor, which they referred only when a dispute remained unresolved for a few days.

Amit Ahluwalia (Alu), Anil Jain, Gopal Phanse and Biswajeet Ghose had been bitten by the golf bug. If they had their way, they would spend their entire lives on the greens. But wishes don’t have wings. Gupta Law Associates (GLA) kept the four young lawyers tethered to their workstations through the week. Nonetheless, their weekends were devoted to golf––it was a ritual they never skipped. Winning or losing the game was less material; they would do ‘anything’ to snatch an opportunity to play.

Anything!

It was far easier to plead and convince a judge presiding over a criminal case than to persuade Harsh Gupta the seventy-nine year old Chairman of Gupta Law Associates (GLA) to spare the young men for a few hours on a workday even for their personal errands. Being spared to play golf––there was no chance whatsoever. How Alu sold the idea to the old man is a guarded secret. But suffice it to say that at the end of their seven-minute interaction, Harsh Gupta had not only agreed to field a team to represent GLA in the HH Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wadiyar Golf Championship at the JWGC, Mysore but had also sanctioned all their expenses including a sleeve of golf balls and a tee shirt each. The old man had possibly calculated the net gains that would accrue to his law firm by way of publicity due to the presence of his emissaries in Mysore amidst what he considered an elite crowd.

With a registered handicap of 18 and actual performance no better than 24, none of them stood the remotest chance of making the cut at the end of the first round. Winning a prize in the Stableford format on the final day was out of the question. They knew their limitations well. Yet their urge ‘just to play’ another round was rather strong.

In the first day’s fixtures their names appeared together in a four-ball. In that, Alu saw an opportunity and a ray of hope. He came up with a scheme. He suggested that they played exactly as they played on their parent golf course in Bangalore––changing the balls on the putting greens and conceding short (one grip length) putts. That would give them the advantage of a few strokes and a possible chance of making the cut. He also suggested a ‘rolling’ mulligan that could be availed discreetly on any hole. “I’ll ‘manage’ the caddies,” he added slyly.

“But that would be unfair to the other golfers participating in the tournament,” protested Jain.

“You are right,” reflected Alu. “But that’s our only hope to qualify and play another round. In any case, with our known performances, none of us will win a prize tomorrow even if we were to qualify today. A little manipulation will not harm other people’s chances of winning a trophy.” Then, after a pause for effect, Alu continued, “Jain, if you avoid being Satyawadi Harishchandra for a change, all of us could enjoy another day of golf.” He looked at Ghose and Phanse who extended tacit support. Unsure and reluctant, Jain also gave in.

To cut the long story short, at the end of the first day’s play, all four of them stood somewhere on the leader board entitling them to play the final round the next morning. That evening they enjoyed the gala party hosted by the organisers. How they had made the cut was forgotten soon enough.

Gimme!

For the final round they were put in different four-balls. Everything changed––no mulligan, no ‘gimme’. It made no difference to them because they had achieved their aim of playing another day. Scores didn’t matter anymore. In fact there was nothing to write home about when they submitted their scorecards. They wanted to set course back for Bangalore as soon as possible but then, as a mark of respect for the organisers they decided to stay back for the prize distribution.

They sat in the last row cracking occasional jokes, eating plum cakes and sipping fresh fruit juices. The announcements being made as a part of the prize distribution ceremony were falling on their deaf ears so that when the name of the runner-up for the prize for the Stableford Net Score (handicap 18 and under) was announced they didn’t monitor it. Anil Jain’s name had to be called thrice before he could register and respond to the call. He had to literally run to the podium to receive his trophy. The sense of winning a prize dawned on him only a half hour later when, on their drive back to Bangalore Alu demanded a treat for Anil’s ‘achievement’.

Next morning in the office: Harsh Gupta felicitated Jain in the presence of the office staff. There was a high tea to commemorate his win at the golf tournament. “It is GLA’s achievement,” said an elated Gupta. There was a photo session with the trophy. And then…

And then came an exuberant Alu. “Congratulations, Bro!” he said with a broad smile as they shook hands and hugged. “Great game! You have been hitting well over the last few days. I knew you would win a prize….” Despite Alu’s effort to be innocuous, Anil felt that every word he uttered was loaded with meaning. “Am I imagining things,” he wondered. A smirk on Alu’s face laid that doubt to rest––Alu was mocking him. Anil also sensed indifference in the way Ghose and Phanse greeted him on his maiden golfing success.

In the evening, when Anil returned home his wife, Sheela wiped the already glittering trophy clean with one end of her dupatta and placed it proudly in the glass showcase in the drawing room. Ideally, that should have been the end of a not so pleasant chapter for Anil.

Not really….

That day onwards, whenever Anil looked at the trophy, rather than getting a sense of fulfilment, it only depressed him. Golfing with his buddies was not the same either––he began seeing meaning in whatever the other three guys said. Carrying the burden of ‘that’ maiden golf trophy was becoming increasingly difficult for Anil until one day it became absolutely unbearable.

Sheela looked at the trophy and said, “Anil this golf trophy is tarnished.” Then turning it over, she exclaimed, “Oh my God, this is real silver. It must be 200 grams. This will require repeated polishing…. I don’t mind you playing more often if you win trophies like this one….” While she continued with her monologue, Anil was stuck with one word: “T-A-R-N-I-S-H-E-D.”

Anil couldn’t bear the guilt of unfair play any longer. The next day he called the Secretary of the JWGC, Mysore and expressed his desire to return the trophy. His lips quivered as he cited his reason for returning the trophy. Mr Madhavan was, first, shell-shocked, and then, touched by what he heard. Collecting himself he said it was fine so long as Anil regretted his action; he didn’t have to return the trophy. After a little ado, he agreed to take back the trophy and present it for fair play to a deserving player in the next tournament.

At the prize distribution ceremony of the HH Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wadiyar Golf Championship next year, Madhavan made a surprise announcement; that of award of ‘Fair Play Trophy’. Without citing any name he spoke about Anil’s confession and called some Dr Sanjay Dixit to receive the trophy––Dixit had been selected by a panel of judges for the honour.

Amid loud clapping, euphoria and standing ovation, Dixit came to the podium and received the trophy. Then with all humility, he returned it to the Chief Guest saying, “I thank the organisers for finding me suitable for the ‘Fair Play Trophy’. But I would not like to take home a ‘Tarnished Trophy’.

For a long minute, there was pin drop silence. And when people spoke again, the ‘Tarnished Trophy’ had become a talk of the town. After much thought the General Body of the JWGC decided to place the “Tarnished Trophy” in the foyer of the Club––with its brief history cited below it.

Now, the trophy inspires players with a conscience, to be loyal to the royal in them.

(Author’s Note: The resemblance of names of persons and places mentioned in this story to real persons and places is incidental).

The Unforgettable Throttle Dutt and his Flying Machine

C-119 Fairchild Packet…

Legend has it that after the Korean War the Americans didn’t want to take that aircraft back to the US and offered it to India at a paltry Rs 5,000/- an aircraft; some say, the aircraft were passed on for a mere USD each. A number of them were certainly donated by the US, to address India’s dire need. Does that matter now? Not really!

C-119 Fairchild Packet

Packet aircraft remained the mainstay of the IAF’s transport aircraft fleet from the mid-1950s (around the time when its production stopped) until the workhorse was finally given a place of honour in the Air Force Museum at Palam (March 31, 1986). Whether it was to serve the UN in Congo or to airlift relief supplies to Egypt and Hungary; whether it was to land guns and men at Chushul (India-China War, 1962) or to paradrop troops over Tangail (Liberation of Bangladesh, 1971); whether it was to ferry Prime Minister Nehru on a state visit across the Iron Curtain to Moscow or to ship Lieutenant General AAK Niazi from Dacca to Nagpur (1972)––Packet did it all, and did it in style and with élan. The Packet fleet also undertook air maintenance task and paratrooping training as a matter of routine.

Farewell to Packet

A look at that aircraft would make one marvel at its ability to defy the laws of gravity and the Principles of Flight. In appearance it was quite un-aircraft-like––its designers called it a Flying Boxcar. Others, less kind in their treatment of the workhorse, gave it the epithet of Flying Coffin. One wonders, “With not-so-appealing (streamlined) features, how a Packet aircraft used to (at all) get unstuck, let alone get airborne and stay afloat?” Well! Packet aircraft had a wingspan of 110 feet. Its engines were the most powerful engines ever built in piston engine era. They produced 3500 horsepower for a weight of 3350 pounds, that is, more than a horsepower per pound of weight. With that brute power, the aircraft could land at Daulat Beg Oldie, the highest airfield in the world. That was in the years 1962 to 1965––more than half a century before the first C-130J Super Hercules landed there. The great Indian Jugaad of installing a jetpack atop the fuselage gave Packet aircraft the added power needed to achieve marvellous feats. Interestingly, Packet was the only aircraft, which had both, piston engines and a jet engine to provide thrust.

My first acquaintance with the aircraft was in February 1982 when I flew for an air experience. And, before I could get the real feel I had boarded the aircraft a second time, for my first parachute descent. In the following 35 years, as a Parachute Jump Instructor (PJI) I have jumped from nearly a dozen different types of transport aircraft of the IAF––from the vintage Dakota and the Caribou to the state-of-the-art Special Operations aircraft, C-130J Super Hercules. But the memory of the jumps made from Packet aircraft is indelible.

As the mind perambulates between now and those days, I recall that it was the magnificent men who flew that machine that really made jumps and life so memorable. I feel that Packet used to fly not because of its overly powered engines, but because of the willpower of the men in blue. Volumes can be written about those memorable days and those heroes. Today I’ll recall just one.

They called him Throttle Dutt.

As the name suggests, he was indeed throttle-happy––ever eager to hop into the cockpit and fly off. Rex Raymond, his course-mate thought, that nickname suited SK Dutt also because of his resemblance to the thin (read, “slim”) shaft of the throttle of a Piper Cub aircraft, which they flew as youngsters. We, the Parachute Jump Instructors (PJIs) knew that if there was an airworthy aircraft on the tarmac and Throttle was around, we’d get our fill of jumps––he would stop only after the task was completed.

Throttle Dutt

Whenever Wing Commander SK Dutt dropped us, we would land in the Drop Zone, evenly scattered on either side of the centre; his name spelt confidence. He would often come to our crew room and, over a cup of tea discuss almost everything under the sun. He was a voracious reader. No wonder, some of his buddies called him Professor.

That day I was anxious about the jump; I had reasons to be in that state of mind.  It was my first outstation jump as an independent spotter. Wing Commander GJ Gomes, our Chief Instructor at the Paratroopers Training School had detailed me to take charge of the Skydiving Demonstration at the ASC Centre at Gaya. It meant that I would be required to work out the release point depending on the prevailing winds and advise the pilot to drop the jumpers. To achieve that, I would be required to lean out of the open door of the aircraft in flight and advise the captain on the intercom to steer the desirable course, with last minute corrections. Skill of the skydivers apart, a good understanding between the pilot and the spotter was the key to pinpoint drops.

I had lined up the skydivers on the tarmac at Gaya Airport and had just completed the pre-jump briefing, when a smiling Throttle Dutt and Squadron Leader Venkiteswaran (the pilots) arrived and signalled us to emplane. They wished me good luck and were about to board the aircraft when Captain Anil Kumar, one of the jumpers walked up to Throttle Dutt and said, “Sir, Khajuraho will be on our way when we fly back to Agra after the demonstration jump…” Then, with wickedness swirling in his eyes, the young officer added, “How about flying a little low over the temples. May be we’ll get a glimpse of the beautiful statues.” He laid extra stress on ‘the beautiful statues’.

Throttle chuckled equally slyly and nudged him towards the aircraft ladder as if to say, “Son, first go and do a good jump.”

The demonstration went off very well. All the skydivers landed in the designated target area in front of the spectators. Wing Commander Gomes was pleased; the crew complimented me when we reached the tarmac after a lavish lunch and fanfare, which are synonymous with such demonstrations. Incidentally, with that jump I completed another century of safe landings. Very soon we were airborne again, heading for Agra. There would be a refuelling halt en route, at Allahabad.

Partly the fatigue, and partly the odd beer or a gin and lime cordial that people had downed at lunch, started taking its toll. Wickets fell one after the other. Within minutes of our departure from Gaya, more than half of us were asleep; the other half were fast asleep. None kept track of time. The chit-chit in the ears caused due to the aircraft’s descent and the mild thud associated with the landing, jostled people from their deep slumbers. Rubbing the eyes and trying to get the bearings right, someone asked, “Allahabad? How much time will we take to refuel?” That question went unanswered as more and more people got up and started looking out of the windows. Sleepiness and the fogging caused by their breaths on the cold Perspex conspired to keep them from getting their dead reckoning. It actually didn’t matter because: Throttle Dutt would ensure our return home by dinner.

As was customary, people waited for the Captain of the aircraft to come out of the cockpit and deplane first. Then, they would form a beeline to the nearest rest room. The fastest would get relief first. “Guys!” Throttle Dutt said as he clapped twice and drew the attention of the people still shuffling restlessly in their seats. “I am giving you exactly one hour and fifteen minutes,” he looked at his wristwatch and continued,” It is three now. Be back by four fifteen. We are in Khajuraho; the temples are not far. You can have a look as I get the aircraft refuelled.” He exchanged a meaningful glance with the young officer who had made the suggestion at Gaya Airport.

Throttle Dutt had chosen to refuel at Khajurao instead of Allahabad––it was his way of keeping the morale of the people around him high without, of course, compromising operations. Four thirty was the closing time for that less used civil airport. For the next ninety minutes Throttle would have a tough time handling the airport staff.

It took the greater part of a long minute for the import of Throttle’s communication to sink into the heads of the jumpers. And when it did make sense, they got into action; they couldn’t afford to waste another minute. It was precisely a three-minute, all male striptease inside the aircraft, at the end of which men were in smart casuals. They couldn’t have gone out in the streets in overalls and dungarees.

In the next few minutes two scores of crew cut men were out in the narrow streets invading the sleepy little town of Khajuraho. They caught hold of any means they could––cycle rickshaw, auto-rickshaw, tonga and some even jogged to reach the tourist attractions.

Meanwhile at the airport…

A worried air traffic controller begged Throttle Dutt to clear the tarmac. He said there wasn’t enough space to accommodate an Air India B 737 aircraft scheduled to land in a while. Throttle assured him that he would move his aircraft further back and create enough space on the tarmac for the incoming B 737. Then, Throttle got into the cockpit, started up the engines and used reverse to create manoeuvring space for the B 737 in full view of a spellbound Airport Staff. It was a sight, they had never seen––they had never seen any aircraft, let alone a massive one of the size of Packet, moving backwards under its own power. 

And although that act of reversing the aircraft on that small manoeuvring surface impressed the controller, it did not allay his anxiety. He now urged the crew to get airborne by four thirty; that was when the watch hours at Khajuraho Airport would cease. Throttle assured them that we’d leave in time.

Back at the Temple site––they went; they saw; and they felt conquered! How the jumpers felt after their visit to the Temples could be the subject of another piece. Suffice it to say that they did not talk about it. Perhaps, how Throttle Dutt made it possible for the bunch of those curious men, and the effort it took to reach the heritage site, was more interesting and memorable than the beauty and the artwork people got to witness there. Period. The entire lot was back at the airport in time for the take off. They lined up and got into the aircraft hurriedly. Throttle Dutt gave an impish smile to a beaming Anil Kumar as he climbed the ladder to take off for Agra.

“दान” बनाम “अर्पण”

अभिस्वीकृति

बात अस्सी के दशक की है। टाइम्स आई रिसर्च फाउंडेशन के माध्यम से भारतीय डाक तार विभाग ने नेत्र दान विषय पर डाक टिकिट जारी करने के लिए एक प्रतियोगिता आयोजित की थी। इस तरह के सामाजिक अभियानों में मेरी आस्था ने मुझे इस पहल में शामिल होने के लिए प्रेरित किया। मेरी कल्पना ने एक उड़ान भरी और मैं डाक टिकिट के लिए एक नमूना बनाने जुट गया। जल्दी ही मैंने अपनी प्रविष्टि टाइम्स आई फाउंडेशन को भेज दी।

दो शब्द मेरी प्रविष्टि के बारे में…

नेत्र दान

एक तरफ मैंने एक मानवीय चेहरे का रेखाचित्र बनाया था जिसमें आँख की जगह रिक्त (सफ़ेद) स्थान छोड़ा था जो कि अंधापन दर्शा रहा था। दूसरी तरफ मैंने एक हथेली बनाई थी जिसकी मुद्रा भगवानों की तस्वीरों में आशीर्वाद देते हाथ की होती है। हथेली के मध्य में मैंने एक आँख बनाई थी जिससे निकलती प्रकाश की किरणे अंधे व्यक्ति पर पड़ रही थीं। मेरी कल्पना में हथेली में बनी आँख से निकल कर अंधे चेहरे पर पड़ती प्रकाश की किरणे दृष्टि (नेत्र) दान की द्योतक थीं। मेरे मित्रों ने मेरी कलाकृति की खूब प्रशंसा की थी। निश्चय ही मैं अपने प्रयास से संतुष्ट था। टाइम्स आई रिसर्च फाउंडेशन ने भी मेरी प्रविष्टि को स्वीकार कर लिया था। कुछ ही समय में मैं उस प्रतियोगिता को भूल सा गया था।

एक दिन, अचानक ही मेरी दृष्टि टाइम्स ऑफ़ इंडिया में भारतीय डाक-तार विभाग द्वारा नेत्र दान पर जारी किये गए डाक टिकिट की तस्वीर पर पड़ी। वह तस्वीर मेरी भेजी हुई प्रविष्टि से बहुत मिलती थी। पहली नज़र में तो मुझे वह मेरी ही भेजी हुई कलाकृति लगी। गौर से देखने पर एक छोटी-सी, परन्तु अत्यंत ही अर्थपूर्ण भिन्नता दिखाई दी जिसने जीवन के बारे में मेरे दृष्टिकोण को सदा के लिए बदल दिया।

नेत्रार्पण

डाक टिकिट के लिए चयनित एवं पुरस्कृत चित्र में एक की जगह दो हथेलियां प्रदर्शित की गयीं थीं। दोनों का रुख आसमान की तरफ था। हाथों की मुद्रा ऐसी थी मानो मंदिर में चढ़ावा दिया जा रहा हो। हथेलियों में एक आँख चित्रित थी जिसमें से निकल कर प्रकाश की किरणे अंधे चेहरे पर पड़ रही थीं––मेरे बनाए चित्र की तरह। अंतर केवल इतना था कि तस्वीर से एक भाव छलक रहा था जो मेरे बनाए चित्र से स्पष्ट रूप से नदारद था –– ‘अर्पण’ करने का भाव। उस चित्र में दाता-याचक का समीकरण नहीं था अपितु दृष्टि देने वाले की विनम्रता और दृष्टि पाने वाले की गरिमा छलक रही थी।

यद्यपि वह डाक टिकिट ‘नेत्र दान’ के लिये प्रेरणा देने के लिए था, उस दिन मैंने ‘दान’ और ‘अर्पण’ शब्दों के अर्थ के अंतर को भली-भांति जाना था; ‘दान’ शब्द में निहित अहंकार को समझा था और ‘अर्पण’ की भावना का अनुभव कर पाया था।

सोचता हूँ, क्या नाम बदलने से लोगों की सोच में बदलाव आ सकता है? क्या लोग दान की भावना को छोड़ अर्पण की भावना को अपना सकते हैं? नेत्रार्पण; रक्तार्पण; देहार्पण?

इस विषय पर इतना लिख कर मैं अपनी कलम को अवकाश दे चुका था। परन्तु मेरी प्रिय बहन की एक टिप्पणी ने मुझे कुछ और शब्द लिखने के लिए उत्साहित किया है। मेरा लेख पढ़कर मेरी बहन ने हास्य-पूर्ण तरीके से मेरा ध्यान “कन्यादान” और “कन्यार्पण” की ओर आकर्षित किया है और मेरी प्रतिक्रिया जाननी चाही है। मैं समझता हूँ कि आज के भारत में इन दोनों के लिए कोई स्थान नहीं है। इनके बारे में सोचना भी पाप है। 

नोट: मेरे इस लेख का उद्देश्य केवल और केवल “दान” और “अर्पण” की भावनाओं में जो अंतर मैंने समझा है उसको अपने पाठकों से साझा करना है। इस में प्रदर्शित डाक टिकिट की जो छवियाँ हैं, वे प्रतीकात्मक हैं। वास्तविक डाक टिकिट और मेरे द्वारा भेजी प्रविष्टि इस लेख में दिखाए गए चित्रों से भिन्न थीं। आशा करता हूँ कि भारतीय डाक विभाग और टाइम्स आई रिसर्च फाउंडेशन, दोनों ही इस मामले को कोई तूल न देंगे।

बड़ी सोच!?

सुबह से करीम बारह कारें साफ कर चुका था। यह तेहरवीं गाड़ी थी। हाथ में कपडा लिए, वह डर-डर कर उस चमचमाती लाल फेरारी कार की तरफ बढ़ा और फिर ठिठका और रुक ही गया। वह नोएडा सेक्टर-18 के रेडिसन ब्लू होटल के सामने पार्क की गयी गाड़ियों पर कपड़ा मार कर दो पैसे कमा लेता था। प्रायः महंगी कारों की सफाई करने से ज्यादा पैसे मिल जाया करते थे। उसके मन में पनपते डर का एक कारण था। पिछले हफ्ते ही एक कार मालिक ने उसकी पिटाई कर दी थी। उसका का गुनाह था––कार के मालिक से बिना पूछे गाड़ी को हाथ लगाना। ग्यारह साल के करीम को दो चांटों के लगने से होने वाली शारीरिक पीड़ा का आभास तक नहीं हुआ था परन्तु अपने साथ हुई बदसलूकी से लगी चोट का दर्द वह भुला नहीं पाया था।

उसने उस फेरारी जितनी आलिशान कार पहले कभी नहीं देखी थी। चुम्बकीय आकर्षण था उस कार में; वह उस के नज़दीक जाकर उसे निहारने लगा। उसका लाल रंग, उसके बम्पर, उसके सामने की जाली, उसकी लाइटें, उसका डैशबोर्ड, उसकी साफ-सुथरी सीटें… एक दम नई थी वह कार। अभी तो उसकी सारी सीटों के पॉलिथीन के कवर भी नहीं उतरे थे और बोनट पर सिन्दूर से बना स्वस्तिक का निशान बिलकुल ताज़ा लग रहा था। स्टीयरिंग पर बंधी माता रानी की चमकवाली लाल चुन्नी, और साइलेंसर पर बंधा काले रंग के धागे का लच्छा कार के मालिक की देवी माता में आस्था को दर्शा रहा था। 

करीम अपने आप को रोक नहीं पाया था; ताका-झांकी कर रहा था। अपने चार दिन पुराने अनुभव को भूल सा गया था। तभी उसने लम्बे कदम भरते एक छः फुटे नौजवान को अपनी तरफ आते देखा। वह मोबाइल पर किसी से बात कर रहा था। करीम सहम सा गया। पल भर में उसे फिर से चार दिन पहले मर्सिडीज़ के मालिक से पड़े झापड़ याद आ गए।

“ओके अनु… तो फिर आज शाम हम गोल्डन ड्रैगन जा रहे हैं। मैं तुम्हें छः बजे घर से पिक अप करूंगा। वी विल गो फॉर अ लॉन्ग ड्राइव बिफोर डिनर,…  बाय बाय! लव यू।” कहते हुए युवक ने मोबाइल बंद किया और करीम पर प्रश्न भरी निगाहें डालीं। करीम ने कार को हाथ नहीं लगाया था फिर भी वह डर-सहम सा गया।

अगर नज़रें क़त्ल कर सकतीं तो युवक की नज़रों से करीम की मौत संभावित थी।

“स स स ररर, कार साफ कर दूँ?” करीम हाथ जोड़ कर मिमियाने लगा। “अच्छे से चमका दूंगा। यह देखिये, यहाँ पर धूल बैठ गयी है।”

युवक को सोचता हुआ देख कर करीम ने थोड़ा साहस जुटाया और आगे बोला, “सर, सिर्फ पाँच मिनट लूँगा।” छोटी सी उम्र में करीम ने यह जान लिया था की बड़े लोगों को अच्छा लगता है जब कोई उनके समय की कद्र करे। युवक को ऐसा लगा जैसे कि करीम ने उसे कुछ और फोन कॉल्स करने का मौका दे दिया हो। उसने सिर हिला कर करीम को कार साफ करने की अनुमति दे दी और फिर से मोबाइल पर एक नंबर डायल करने लगा।

“हैलो, मैं अमित कालरा बोल रहा हूँ… यस, यस, मैंने ही कॉल किया था।  जी हाँ, टेबल फॉर टू… कैंडल लाइट… ओके, कनफर्म्ड।”

अमित कालरा कॉल किये जा रहा था। उन कॉल्स के दौरान उसकी नज़र करीम पर टिकी थी।

करीम बड़ी तन्मयता से कार साफ कर रहा था। कपड़े से पोंछ कर वह अलग-अलग कोण से कार को देख कर तस्सली कर रहा था कि चमक में कहीं कमी न रह जाय। करीम की मेहनत से युवक प्रभावित था। करीम के फटे कपडे देख कर उसे बच्चे पर दया भी आने लगी थी। मन ही मन उसे अच्छी टिप देने का निश्चय कर लिया था अमित ने।

“हेलो भैया, व्हाट अ फैबुलस कार? इट रिएली फ्लाईज़… सुपर्ब… आई एम एंजोयिंग ड्राइविंग इट। तुसि ग्रेट हो। आई लव यू, बिग ब्रदर।” अमित ने एक और कॉल किया।

अमित कालरा आज खुश था। और क्यों न होता? उस के मन में अपनी नई फेरारी में पहली बार अनु को सैर कराने की उमंग जो थी। पर वह असमंजस में भी था, “यमुना एक्सप्रेसवे पर जाना ठीक होगा या डीएनडी पर सैर का आनंद आएगा? आज डिनर के वक्त हिम्मत कर के अनु को प्रोपोज़ कर ही दूंगा। उसे फूल कम पसंद हैं, डार्क चॉकलेट्स ठीक रहेगीं…।”

मई की गर्मी में भी अमित कालरा वसंत ऋतु में खिले फूलों की ताज़गी को महसूस कर रहा था।

न जाने कैसे पंद्रह मिनट बीत गए। मन में चल रहे अनेक संवादों में अमित कुछ इस तरह खो गया था कि समय का पता ही नहीं चला। जब विचारों के भंवर से अमित उबरा तो अपने सामने करीम को पाया। अमित उस गरीब की मुस्कुराहट के पीछे छुपी गम्भीरता को महसूस कर रहा था। अमित ने पर्स खोल कर करीम के हाथ में एक पांच सौ रुपये का नया नोट रख दिया।

निस्संदेह आज कुछ खास बात थी; अमित के मन में उदारता उमड़ रही थी। उम्मीद से बहुत अधिक पैसे पाकर करीम की ख़ुशी का कोई ठिकाना न रहा। उसका चेहरा अब एक खुली किताब था जिसे अमित आसानी से पढ़ सकता था। “सर, ये तो मेरे तीन दिन से ज्यादा की कमाई हो गयी,” करीम ख़ुशी से पगला सा गया ।

“क्या करोगे इन पैसों का,” अमित ने वैसे ही गाड़ी में बैठते हुए मुस्कुराते हुए पूछ लिया। करीम के उत्तर में उसकी कोई दिलचस्पी नहीं थी।

“सर, सीधा घर जाऊँगा। अगले कुछ दिन गाड़ियाँ साफ नहीं करूंगा। पढाई करुँगा। अगले हफ्ते परीक्षा है। इन पैसों से घर का काम चल जाएगा।” करीम की बातें सुन कर अमित के मन में अचानक उत्सुकता और दया के भावों की छोटी सी सुनामी आ गयी।

“कहाँ रहते हो?”

“सर, पास ही में; सेक्टर-52 में जो फ्लाईओवर बन रहा है उसके पास की झुग्गिओं में मेरा घर है। अम्मी वहीँ साइट पर काम करती हैं।”

“कालरा कंस्ट्रक्शंस की साइट पर?”

“सर नाम तो नहीं मालूम पर हमारे मालिक ऐसी ही लाल गाड़ी में कभी-कभी आते हैं। ताड़ जैसे ऊँचे हैं, बिलकुल आप जैसे दिखते हैं।”

अमित कालरा के चेहरे पर मुस्कराहट का आना स्वाभाविक था––कालरा कंस्ट्रक्शंस उसके पिता की कंपनी थी जिसे उसका भाई सुमित चलाता था। अमित ने अभी-अभी एमिटी यूनिवर्सिटी से एम बी ए पास किया था। सी.जी.पी.ए.  बहुत कम था––डिग्री तो नाम के लिए चाहिए थी, आगे चल कर तो घर का बिज़नेस ही संभालना था। घर पर सभी बहुत खुश थे।

“आओ में तुम्हें वहाँ छोड़ दूँगा। मैं उधर ही जा रहा हूँ,” अमित के मन में उदारता और दया भाव ने एक और हिलकोरा लिया। उसने मुस्कुराते हुए करीम को कार में बैठने का इशारा किया। अमित सोच रहा था कि उस गरीब की जिंदगी का वह एक बड़ी यादगार वाला दिन होगा। अमित को ख़ुशी थी कि वह उस बच्चे को एक खास ख़ुशी देने जा रहा था। उसे, खुद को होने वाली अनुभूति में कहीं––थोड़ा सा सही––घमंड घुला हुआ था।

करीम सकपकाया। वह सपने में भी ऐसी कार में बैठने की बात नहीं सोच सकता था। वह कार के खुले दरवाजे की ओर बढ़ा और रुक गया। फिर जल्दी से उसने अपनी टूटी चप्पलें––जिनकी सेफ्टी पिन से मरम्मत की गयी थी––उतारी और उनको थपथपा कर उनकी धूल को निकलाकर उन्हें साफ किया। फिर जल्दी से जेब से एक गन्दा सा कपड़ा निकाला और उसे कार की पॉलिथीन से कवर की गयी सीट पर बिछा दिया––”सर, रुमाल फैला देता हूँ, सीट गन्दी नहीं होगी।”

करीम की ख़ुशी का ठिकाना न था।

करीम की ख़ुशी में अमित आनंदित हो रहा था। सेक्टर-18 के गुरूद्वारे के सामने से निकलते हुए अमित के मन में न जाने क्या बात आयी कि सीधे सेक्टर-52 की तरफ जाने के बजाय उसने जी.आई.पी. के सामने यू-टर्न ले लिया और फिल्म सिटी की ओर चल पड़ा। वह चाहता था कि करीम को थोड़ी लम्बी सैर कराए।

खुश लेकिन सहमा सा, करीम कभी कार में तो कभी बाहर देख रहा था। कार के स्टीरियो पर बजते गाने की आवाज़ कम करते हुए अमित ने बोलना शुरू किया, “कैसा लग रहा है?”

“बहुत अच्छा,” पुलकित करीम चहचहाया।  

“जानते हो, मुझे यह कार मेरे भाई ने मेरे बर्थडे पर गिफ्ट में दी है?”

“अच्छा!?” करीम की आँखों में प्रश्न और विस्मय से भरी प्रशंसा थी।

“वे तो मुझे रेंजरोवर देना चाहते थे पर मैं फेरारी के लिए अड़ गया,” अमित खिलखिलाया और फिर जोर देकर बोला, “… … सोच बड़ी होनी चाहिए।”

ये बातें करीम की समझ से बाहर थीं। फिर भी वह जवाब में आँखें बड़ी कर के सिर हिला रहा था।

“और घूमना है?”

“नहीं सर, बस अब मुझे उतार दें।”

“कोई बात नहीं, मैं तुम्हें साइट पर छोड़ दूँगा।”

महामाया फ्लाईओवर की ओर से एक लम्बा चक्कर लगाते हुए अमित ने कार को सेक्टर-52 की झुग्गिओं के सामने ला कर रोक दिया और करीम की और देख कर एक बार फिर मुस्कुराया, “परीक्षा के लिए बेस्ट ऑफ़ लक।”

“थैंक यू, सर,” करीम ने कार का दरवाज़ा खोलने की कोशिश करते हुए कहा। उससे दरवाजा न खुलते देख अमित ने मदद की। कार से उतरते-उतरते करीम रुक गया और अमित की ओर देख कर विनती की, “सर, प्लीज एक मिनट रुक जायें, मैं अभी लौट कर आता हूँ।”

करीम की मेहनत और लगन पर फिदा अमित ने हामीं भर दी और अपना मोबाइल उठा लिया और व्हाट्सएप मैसेजेस देखने लगा।

दो ही मिनट में करीम वापस आ गया। उसकी गोद में एक छोटा सा बच्चा था जिसे वह बड़ी मुश्किल से उठा पा रहा था। कार के पास आकर वह अमित से बोला, “सर, ये मेरा भाई आरिफ है।” फिर आरिफ को ऊँगली से दिखा कर बोला, “आरिफ, पता है, आज इन साब ने मुझे इस मोटर में बिठा कर घुमाया है। ये इनके बड़े भाई ने इनको तोहफे में दी है। एक दिन मैं भी तुझे ऐसी ही गाड़ी तोहफे में दूँगा।”

अमित ने एक मिनट बाद कार आगे बढ़ा दी। फिर देर तक कार के रियर व्यू मिरर में दोनों बच्चों को खिलखिला कर टा-टा करते देखता रहा।

“सोच बड़ी होनी चाहिए।” अमित की अपनी ही आवाज़ उसके कानो में गूँज रही थी।

Dear Mr Kejriwal, are you listening?

Dear Mr Kejriwal,

You began your journey of sweeping the muck in Indian Politics with baby steps alongside Anna Hazare. Soon you outpaced him; the old soldier could not march by your side. You left him behind. Nothing is wrong about that decision of yours because when a mission is still unaccomplished; it is not incorrect, unfair or unethical to leave behind the weak and the wounded. They can be attended to; their wounds nursed, and their contribution to the war effort can always be lauded after the flag has been hoisted on the objective. In some cases, a nicely worded epitaph can make up for everything.

The problem is of shifting goal posts and ever-changing objectives. Selection and Maintenance of Aim is a principle of war. It is difficult; nay impossible to recall a victory wherein this proven principle has been flouted. Needless to say, the journey is long and arduous; you have miles to go. Be sure what you want to aim at: purifying Indian politics or uplifting aam admi or uprooting BJP with the help of others with whom you otherwise don’t see eye to eye. 

I hear you have done remarkable job in some walks of Delhi’s life; your team’s effort to provide quality education and healthcare is, beyond any doubts, unparalleled; it deserves a very special mention and appreciation. May you have the resources, power and support to keep going great guns.

Now, how does one keep going when people are jumping off the bandwagon at regular intervals? Some members of your core team who have left you have compared you with Napoleon. Napoleon––not the French Emperor, but the Napoleon of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. And, Ms Shazia Ilmi thinks she was the Boxer (of the same epic). Others who left you also perhaps thought so, but didn’t say it openly. But, you don’t have to worry on that count. Animal Farm, written nearly three quarters of a century ago as a satire on communism fits Indian politics of today. It fits very well! Rejoice in the fact that you don’t stand alone––every party has Napoleons. When I look at you (people) dark humour amuses me to no end.

That’s just the preface to draw your attention; what follows is more serious. I only hope you have the time, and the inclination too, to read on.

What has struck my imagination recently is your decision to consider granting free travel to women in DTC buses and Delhi Metro. The reason you have extended this proposal is––women’s safety. It baffles me to no end. How can making the ride free for women in public transport enhance their safety? A large number of women can afford public transport and are already availing DTC and Delhi Metro services. The additional number of women who will get attracted to (government) public transport because of the freebie will be miniscule. And, if I am not grossly wrong, in these times of #MeToo, by this very gesture of yours, you might end up offending many a self-respecting woman who seek absolute equality in thoughts and actions.

If you still implement your plan, I fear that you will start a practice, which will nurture yet another breed of people getting used to free lunches with added burden on the state. Mind you Mr Kejriwal, the public are smart. Blame yourself for it; you made them smart. I remember you telling them long ago, to accept whatever freebies (and bribes) other parties were giving, and still vote for AAP. I will not be surprised if, in the next assembly elections women do just that––accept your freebie and still go by their choice.

Freebies

Think of it, there are umpteen ways of making women safer than by just giving them free rides. Directing the resources and energies towards, and focussing them on the source of crime can make people, let alone women in our cities safe.

I have a suggestion, if you care.

We have a large population living in slums all over the city, on footpaths, and under the flyovers. People living in those places work as labourers on construction sites and as servants in bungalows, offices and factories. The stark reality is that Delhi “needs” them. Delhi cannot do without them––Delhi will come to a standstill if they are not there. Their children sell pirated bestsellers, used flowers, hand towels and ballpoint pens on traffic lights. To earn a livelihood, some of them take to crime. And, if one was to go by what our films depict, they are picked up by bigger fish to get their works accomplished.

Such places where survival is a daily chore, people are vulnerable. Those places can easily turn into nurseries for crime.

Convert those slums into double-storey accommodation with the very basic amenities (drinking water, sanitation and electricity). Give them medical facilities and schools. That will demolish some of the nurseries where little ones get to learn their basics of crime. How so ever difficult it might appear, it is achievable. All that is required is a strong will to do it.

A single court decision in the US––to legalise abortion––brought down the crime rate drastically. But that took nearly twenty years. If you give a decent livelihood to the poorest of the poor today, it is just likely that the positive effect might be felt twenty years hence.

Are you ready to wait that long, Mr Kejriwal?

Remember, a lot can be achieved in this world, if one is not bothered about who gets the credit for the achievement or, who reaps the harvest. Are you ready to switchover from the alleged Napoleon’s role to that of Boxer’s in the yet-to-be-conceptualised Animal Farm Revisited? Keep the answer to yourself.

At this juncture, may God bless you with the wisdom to choose the right path.

Yours truly,

Group Captain Ashok K Chordia (Re-attired)

An Indian Air Force Veteran

Cooking the Goose of the Gender

It is important to make sure that one doesn’t offend people by inadvertently using language that might be considered sexist. In these times of #MeToo, it is even more important to mind one’s P’s and Q’s. For several decades now, many words and well-accepted expressions have come to be seen as discriminatory––discriminatory against women, in particular. It could be because of the nature of job being done mainly by men in the bygone days e.g. businessman, postman and fireman etc. Some other words give a distinctly different identity to women than their male equivalent (e.g. actor/actress; mayor/ mayoress, steward/stewardess, heir/ heiress, hero/ heroine, manager/ manageress). Some of these words, while giving the women a different identity have, over a period of time, come to convey a somewhat different status for them.

Feminists and well-meaning people on either side of the gender divide have been trying hard to remove the bias in the language. So now we have words like chairperson or chair (instead of chairman), head teacher (instead of headmaster/ headmistress). Mrs, for a married woman is passé; Ms is the right form to use. It is also customary now to use a term, which was previously used exclusively for men to refer to both men and women. For example, authoress, poetess and actress, have been replaced by author, poet and actor. The more conscious of the English language users have begun using human race or humankind instead of mankind. And until acceptable words/ terms are coined, words like princess, tigress, lioness, abbess, duchess, usherette, seamstress and seductress etc. will remain in use. One is less likely to take offence.

We do not mind using he/ she, him/ her and his/ her any number of times in our correspondence to remain gender neutral. Here are some examples:

  • He/ She (the candidate) must report at the reception by 10 am.
  • The HR department will inform him/ her about the likely dates.
  • A scholar is expected to submit his/ her report in a month.
  • The student can seek advice from his/ her

While the linguists and the feminists have been striving to achieve gender neutrality, people are exercising their right to cook the goose of the gender. I know of a lady from the Hindi heartland of India who prefers to use the male verbs (in Hindi) for herself e.g. करता हूँ, खाता हूँ, जाता हूँ,… etc.

Mrs Indira Gandhi didn’t like to be called ‘Madam’. Legend has it that once when she was on a state visit to the US, the American President wanted to know (through the then Indian Ambassador, Mr BK Nehru) how to call her, “Madam Prime Minister or Prime Minister?” She said, “Tell the President I don’t care what he calls me; he can call me Mr Prime Minister or just Prime Minister. But tell him also that my colleagues call me Sir.”

TOI Gender IMG_9170
Cooking the Goose of the Gender

Are the editorial staff of the Times of India following in the footsteps of Mrs Gandhi’s colleagues?

 

The Red Marble & Thieves

I guess you remember Kanti, the little entrepreneur who wanted to make a fortune by growing lemons on his head.

So, without ado, I bring you here another episode from his eventful childhood. It might evoke different emotions in you––from humour to sympathy to indifference––depending on what strikes your imagination.

But, for Kanti it was a traumatic experience. Read on…

One evening, Kanti came charging into the house and began rummaging the only drawer he was assigned in a chest of drawers to keep his belongings. It was a little beyond his reach even when he stood on the tips of his toes; he had to climb a stool to reach it. That inability to access his drawer was one of the main reasons he wanted to grow tall, really soon. And, that was the reason he accepted everything his mother gave him. “Eat it; it’ll help you grow tall,” she would say.

Kanti grew desperate as he looked for something, which seemed to evade his eyes. In a last ditch effort, he pulled out the full drawer, the weight of which, his tiny frame couldn’t bear. And, lo and behold, he lost balance and fell to the ground with a massive thud. All his toys came tumbling out––three cars, two tennis balls, crayons, pencils, a kaleidoscope, a piece of coloured glass, a top, Ludo and Snakes & Ladders board and a dozen other things.

“Maaa… heelppp!” Kanti yelled as he fell.

“What happened?” Maya, a concerned mother ran out of the kitchen in response to the distress call of her little one. She was aghast at the sight of Kanti lying spread-eagled on the floor facing the roof, a bit dazed; the drawer see-sawing on his little chest and a dozen and more marbles still traversing different paths on the floor in the hope of finding a state of equilibrium.

“Oh my God!” She staggered, “What happened? I hope you aren’t hurt, my child!?” She enquired with great concern even as she stepped on a marble and tripped and tumbled. Only a heavenly intervention enabled her to grasp the arm of a dining chair and avoid a fall. In one quick action she removed the drawer from Kanti’s chest and helped him on his feet.

“I’m fine,” said Kanti. But a face contorted by a spasm of pain, and a clearly visible limp in his gait gave away his actual condition.

“What happened,” was the repeated question, the doting mother asked as she hugged him and looked for signs of injuries.”

“Nothing really!” said Kanti. “I was looking for a red marble.”

“Now Kanti, you could have waited for me, as you always do. I would have helped you with it.”

“But you were in the kitchen and I was in too great a hurry. I couldn’t have waited.”

“Couldn’t have waited…. What do you mean?” Maya distorted her eyebrows to lay stress on the questions.

Unmindful of Maya’s concern, Kanti started picking up the marbles strewn on the floor. He was still looking for the ‘red’ marble.

Maya gave a glass of water to Kanti who still appeared hassled. “Tell me, what is the matter? And, look there. Yes there, under the chair. There’s your ‘red’ marble.” Maya said as she pointed at it.

The Red Marble

Greatly relieved, Kanti picked up the ‘red’ marble and pocketed it. He then hugged her mother tightly (Shashi Tharoor would rather have called the hug, a “kwtch”. A “kwtch” is more than a hug).

“Maa, you have saved me from ending up in prison.” His eyes welled and a tear rolled down his little pink cheek.

Maya’s face wore a big question mark.

“It’s like this… This morning I was playing marbles with Dinesh when he was called by his mother. He quit the game but left his red marble in a hope to re-join soon. But he did not return. So I picked up all the marbles and returned home. I carried his “red” marble too, to hand it over to him later.”

Curiosity was killing Maya: “Ending up in Jail? Red marble? What was going on in Kanti’s mind?”

Kanti continued with the seriousness of a grown up.

“Just a while ago, when I was playing outside with Veena (remember Veena? Kanti’s cousin of his age, and his living encyclopaedia of worldly knowledge) we saw a policeman passing by. In his tow was a handcuffed man. Veena told me that he was a thief being taken to the jail where he would be kept away from his family and friends for many days. She told me that a thief is a person who takes away someone else’s belongings without the owner’s consent. She also told me that…”

“Of course, thieves get punished. So how does that bother you?” Maya was impatient and wouldn’t let Kanti complete his story.

“I have taken Dinesh’s red marble without his consent. I am afraid the police will jail me for being a thief. I don’t want to be away from you and Dad,” sobbed Kanti.

“Oh my dear. You are not a thief. You have taken the marble only to help your friend. Thieves take away things with bad intention; not to return them,” Maya allayed Kanti’s anxiety. “Now go and handover the marble to Dinesh.”

Kanti was panting when he returned from Dinesh’s house. Maya smiled at him. “So that’s the end of it.” She thought.

She couldn’t have been more wrong.

Later, in the evening at the dinner table the three––Kanti, Anil (his father) and Maya––exchanged notes on how each spent the day. That was the family’s way of unwinding every day. Maya was the first one to speak. She had nothing to talk about her day. So she told Anil about the red marble and Kanti’s woe that afternoon. She chuckled as she shared the incident. Anil struggled to hold back the impulse to smile at the story when he saw a quiet Kanti lost in some thoughts.

“So Kanti, did you return the red marble to Dinesh,” Anil asked Kanti to get him involved in the conversation.

“Yes Dad, I did… and Dinesh was happy to get it back.” Kanti still wore a blank look. His discomfiture couldn’t escape Anil’s eyes.

“Is there something still troubling you, Kanti?” Anil poured all the tenderness that a caring father could in that question.

“Dad, Veena told me a lot of things about the thieves and the jail. She told me how they make the inmates clean, sweep and work hard in the jail. The police even shave off their heads.” Anil was all ears, nodding occasionally as he absorbed Kanti’s bits.

Then Kanti paused and looked around as if to make sure that no one else was listening. Once assured of the privacy, he brought his mouth close to his father’s ear and started talking in a hushed tone. “And Dad, do you know…?” He glanced around the room again and spoke in a whisper, “We are surrounded by thieves! Brij Mohan Bhaiya (the milkman), Ramu Bhaiya (the dhobi), and… even Ramesh Uncle (Major Ramesh, a friend of Anil)––all of them have shaven heads. As Veena said, they must have served sentences in the jail.”

Rest of Anil’s evening, and the following weekend was spent in convincing Kanti that all men with shaven heads were not thieves. Anil realised how easy it was to teach a child a new thing rather than erase things from its tender mind.