Question of a Sabbatical

Another page from my dateless Delhi diary…

The date and the year are of less consequence; it was a hot April afternoon. I saw the three of them walking on the footpath in Subroto Park and offered them a lift. They got into the car hesitantly.

“Thank you Sir. I am Ravindra Sharma, he is my brother Navin and he is my son, Ajay (names changed),” one of them broke the ice as they settled in the car.

“I am Group Captain Ashok Chordia,” I introduced myself and asked, “Where do you want to go?”

“We have to board a train from Nizamuddin railway Station. It will be kind of you, if you could leave us at the nearest bust stop on your way,” he urged.

“The Station is on my way. I’ll leave you there.”

“So nice of you, sir.”

Then there was prolonged silence. The three sat quietly, perhaps not knowing what to talk about. I have experienced this type of a mix of reticent and introverted behaviour on the part of simple people in the presence of strangers. In the presence of service officers, the behaviour seems to be more pronounced.

It was going to be a fairly long (15 kms) drive along the Inner Ring Road and was going to take in excess of 30 minutes. Silence with four people sitting in the car would be menacing.

“You don’t seem to belong to Delhi?” I initiated a polite meaningless conversation.

“Sir, we belong to Kota. We were here for a counselling session for Ajay.”

“How was it? What does your son intend doing?”

“Just so. I am disappointed with his board exams result,” said the father with concern.

“What’s the matter?”

Books“Sir, he has scored 94 per cent marks. He just doesn’t read. If he studies properly, he can get more marks. He wants to do engineering. Why don’t you advise him, please?”

My jaw dropped. “Here is a father dissatisfied with his son scoring enviable marks, and he wants me to guide him? What advice do I render a kid who in my assessment is brilliant,” I wondered.

I did not want to disappoint the father so I continued talking. In a while I realised that the boy was very intelligent and could understand concepts rather fast. Therefore he used to take less time as compared to others to complete his assignments. Repetition used to bore him and that’s where his ideas conflicted with his father.

With much thought I came out with a piece of advice to him, “If you read more books of each subject you will have a deeper understanding of the concepts. Solving question papers and numerical problems from different books will give you a strong base. Lastly, if you still have time, devote it to improving your communication skills––an effort that will stand you in good stead, what ever you do later in life.” All three were listening to me intently.

“Sir, I’ll do as you have suggested,” assured Ajay.

“That’s good. You are capable of better performance and must try to exploit your ability to grasp things fast to broaden your knowledge base and communication skills.”

The father was happy with the interaction. At the railway station, I took him aside and advised him to give a freer hand to the boy to manage his studies. I told him that meddling with his approach to academics might be counter-productive.

The chapter was over, I thought.

Not really!

A month later, I received a call from Ravindra, “Sir, you have cast a magic spell on my son. He is a transformed being now. I want to thank you for making a difference.”

“I am happy to hear that. I hope he continues to work that way. Convey my good wishes to him.” We exchanged some niceties before disconnecting.

It was not over yet.

A few months later, I received another call from Ravindra, which put me in a very difficult situation. “Sir, I am in dire need of your advice. Ajay wants to take a sabbatical and prepare for IIT entrance examination. If he doesn’t get through, a year will be wasted. What shall we do?”

In a few seconds which seemed to last an eternity, I gave a thought to Ravindra’s request for advice. I realised that he had called me with great hope. I found it difficult to turn down his request. But then, what advice could I give him?

I collected my thoughts and organised them in the few seconds in which we exchanged less important information. Then I started, “Ravindra, our lifespan is 75 to 80 years if we lead a decent life. One year in a lifespan of 75-80 years is a small fraction; it is insignificant. If you allow, Ajay to have his way, he will put in his heart and soul in the preparation and, in all probability, he’ll get through. It will be great if that happens. If he doesn’t get through, the hard work that he puts in through the year will not go a waste. The knowledge that he will gain, will stand him in good stead in whichever college he joins subsequently. Besides, if he doesn’t make it to the IIT, he will come to know of his limitations. One last thing… if you let him take a sabbatical wholeheartedly and support him in his endeavour, without bothering about the end result, he will love and respect you more than he does now. I feel he deserves your willing support.” Ravindra thanked me profoundly for sharing my thoughts.

For the next few months, I waited eagerly to hear from him. There was silence.

Much later, when I had forgotten everything, Ravindra called me again. It was a courtesy call. “How do you do, Sir!? All’s well here. Ajay is doing very well. He’ll be an engineer soon. He joins me in conveying regards to you for all the valuable advice you gave us.”

“That’s heartening. What about the sabbatical? Did he take it? Did he get through to IIT?” I was curious to know.

“Sir, I gave him a free hand; told him to go ahead and take a sabbatical and prepare for IIT. But then he decided against it. He got admission in a college of his choice and a course of his liking. I’ll keep you posted of his progress.”

Ravindra has been calling me occasionally to share his little joys.

Grandma or Tom Sawyer!?

One of my all time favourite books is Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In particular, I remember the part published as a separate story titled Whitewashing the Fence. Briefly, Tom is assigned the job of whitewashing the fence by aunt Polly––something that he does not really like. He starts whitewashing the fence, but ultimately makes the other kids of his neighbourhood do the job for him. He sells the idea that whitewashing is a work of art and not many can do it well. His friends fall for the challenge and come to do it in turns. They even pay him in kind to be able to get a chance at it. He not only gets the job done (he is able to get three coats of whitewash on the fence) by his friends but also makes some gains in the form of the core of an apple, a kite, a dead rat and a string to swing it with, twelve marbles, part of a Jew’s-harp, a piece of blue bottle-glass to look through… the list is very long. Says Mark Twain, “If he (Tom Sawyer) hadn’t run out of whitewash he would have bankrupted every boy in the village.”

Mark Twain summarises Tom’s exploitation of the kids thus:

“He (Tom) had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it—namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.”

Throwing small challenges, which a kid cannot but accept, is an art. Grandma Rita Jain, a Professor of Botany, seems to have mastered the art well. She has stitched a colourful mat with leftover pieces of cloth that she had. She makes her grandson, Kartik sit on the mat and proposes (that’s her way of challenging the little one), “Kartik, I wonder if you can point at the red squares.”

3aaa0de2-c2b9-436b-ae18-5a72c4d58887Kartik feels victorious when he is able, not only to point, but also count the squares of a particular colour. Sitting in Padmasan, the Lotus Posture on the same mat and performing some other actions form a package deal of challenges, which he enjoys accepting.

One trick cannot keep a kid engaged for long. Kartik seeks variety. The other day, the grandma sat by him and started whipping curds with the traditional Indian whipper (Mathani). It was a stratagem. As the grandma had expected, the little one was attracted to it and wanted to do it all by himself. “Dadiji, I want to do it,” he expressed his desire.

e60e8f23-aed3-4f1d-9828-a4196a484cde“Beta, it is difficult. Do you think you can really do it?” She made the exercise of whipping the curd sound like a highly technical job.

“I’ll do it slowly. I’ll not spill anything. Let me try at least. Please, Dadiji.” Kartik urged.

“Okay! Go ahead! Let me see how well you do it,” the grandma ratcheted up the challenge.

Kartik did it; and did it well. There was nothing great about it. But that little challenge was a step forward in improving eye-hand coordination. The sense of pride that he had at the end of the exercise, gave him confidence for yet another challenge.

In these games that Kartik and the grandma play, both are winners.  

 

 

Straight From a Goof’s Heart: An Eagle on the Seventh Hole

The par four seventh hole of the Air Force Training Command Golf Course was a difficult one. Let alone a par, getting a bogie on that hole was a herculean effort. But in those days––I am talking about 2004 when owing to family commitments, I was leading the life of a forced bachelor––I had all the time in the world and I used to play regularly. My game had improved greatly. I was hitting good distance, fairly accurately. I was confident about my short game and could manage puts equally well. Getting a few pars and an occasional birdie had become an expectation.

IMG_4287“Small bets make you fight; they get the best out of you.” That suggestion from a fellow golfer had appealed to me and I had got into what I thought was competitive golf. The bet used to be modest: breakfast on the loser, or meagre amounts that would be barely enough to pay the caddie. Howsoever small those amounts were, there used to be a great charm in winning. If nothing, honour used to at stake. No wonder, the hundred-rupee note that I won for hitting an Eagle on the seventh hole, signed by the fellow golfers (those days scribbling on currency notes was not considered an offence) became a trophy of sorts for me.

The habit continued when I left Bangalore. I have been playing with very modest stakes for more than a dozen years now. When I look back, I find that in all these years, my game has deteriorated gradually. I have analysed the decline in my performance and have been satisfied with my conclusions: I have not been playing regularly; age is catching up, my strength and stamina has gone down…

“Could playing with stakes have taken toll of my game?” The idea never cropped up.

This afternoon I was with someone I consider my golf guru, Minky Barbora. It was not for a lesson in golf, but we were at the Noida Golf Course just for lunch. Discussion on my own performance was not even the last thing on my mind. There were two other gentlemen and as it always happens, the discussion moved on to performance on the course.img_4280.jpg

Minky had an opinion on betting, much different from mine. He said that when one bets, one is content with performing to a level, which ensures a win––just a win. One is satisfied with a par when the opponent has a bogie. He is fine with a bogie, if the competitor has a double bogie and so on… The determination to go for pars and birdies, regardless of the competitor’s performance, erodes. Under the circumstances, progress is a far cry.

The guru had a point, a valid one in that. I have so often seen people conceding holes when playing with stakes––to save time and to move on to the next tee.

In my case, quiet introspection has led to a decision: On the next visit to the course, I’ll play G-O-L-F. The modest betting amount that I have been setting aside—If I improve upon my previous performance, I’ll tip the caddie.  If my game is bad, I’ll give it to him assuming that I have lost a bet.

 

Straight From a Goof’s Heart: Greens & Dreams

Slide1Last Monday, playing nine holes after six months, I had three pars; two of them were missed birdies. Rest of the game was decent, mostly bogies, and an odd double bogie. For me, that’s a great performance. It can give me wings to soar for the next six months. But that is not what made my day. My day was made at the Noida Golf Course when I went there later in the afternoon to witness a Golf Tournament organised for the caddies.

I was late and saw only the concluding ceremony. That was enough to overwhelm me.

Slide3The golf bit––the gross scores, the net scores, the longest drive, the closest to the pin… and the prizes––was like any I had seen in so many places. What touched me was a team of people talking passionately to them about L-I-F-E. Trying to talk them into looking at their lives and think about improving it. I did not know the people who spoke, but I remember the passion with which they were trying to influence their minds. They spoke to their families too––their wives and children who had come well dressed for the occasion. They had cast a spell on the lot. At the end of it, they seemed determined to rise and shine in life.

Chicken biryani, dahi raita and gulab jamun laid in an area which is normally an out of bound area for the caddies was another high in their lives.

In the end of it all, when they were asked to write on a display board, one good thing each one had learnt that morning, they vied to express themselves. It was a sight I’ll cherish for days to come.

The joy and the positive vibes that I experienced there were unparalleled.

Well done Minky! Well done Mahima! You are making a big difference! Keep it up!

Slide2

Water! Water!

“Water,” they say, “is a medicine for sick people; a tonic, for the healthy.”

I drink sufficient water every day to stay hydrated and healthy. Never thought of carrying some in the car except while embarking on long journeys. Until one day, a few years ago when we were driving from Noida to Lajpat Nagar. It was just a 15-minute drive and we were halfway home. Swati, our niece enquired if I had drinking water in the car. I regretted and told her that we would be home soon. I continued to drive. In a little while, she became restless and desperate for water. She was in agony till we reached home. In a couple of hours, she was in Moolchand Hospital under the surgeon’s scalpel undergoing surgery for appendicitis.

Swati did not get water when she needed it so much. That day marked the beginning of a new habit with me; I started carrying a bottle of drinking water in the car. Sometimes I take a sip from the bottle to wet my throat when I am stuck in traffic. On numerous occasions the small water reserve has come in handy.

IMG_4023Once, at a traffic light I saw a kid hanging out of a school bus. He was unwell and was trying to throw up. He was relieved when he drank some water from my bottle. The bottle of water has also provided succour to people in similar state, standing by their cars parked by the roadside. Interestingly, the number of times this bottle of water has quenched the thirst of dried up car radiators is large.

IMG_4258When I started, I used to be carrying water in a plastic bottle. Then came the warning that drinking water from a pet bottle kept in a car parked in the sun could cause cancer. So I started using a beautiful wine bottle. Green glass and a cork––it looked good! Very good, indeed! It became the envy of friends who saw it.

Then one day, when I was taking a sip at a road crossing, waiting for the traffic light to turn green, I was asked by a cop to pull up to the side of the road. Everything looks yellow to a jaundiced eye! He thought, I was consuming alcohol in public. It was not his fault; he comes across many daring drunken drivers during the tour of his duty. It took some polite talking on my part and a puff into the breath analyser to be let off.

That incident nudged me into some creativity. I removed the wine label (Cuvée Spéciale) and pasted another label, which reads: “Water! Water!

Ferrari/Volkswagen/Merc or Tata/ Maruti/ Mahindra & MacBook?

One day when Mudit was still a child, he felt very magnanimous and promised to buy me a Ferrari one day. I was delighted with the visions of me driving the dream car. With a degree in Mechanical Engineering, a Masters in Petroleum and another one in Sustainable Technology, the idiot has got on a track to develop technology that supports development of environment friendly cars. His promise of buying me a Ferrari stands.

But now I have a change of mind.

If I were to believe this morning’s BBC World News, the EU Commission is likely to open an investigation into the allegation of collusion between the Circle of Five (BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen and its subsidiaries (Porsche and Audi) not to compete in the area of emission control technology––to develop such technologies slowly. If the allegations were to be proved it would mean deliberate denial of cleaner cars to the customers. It would also amount to breach of competition law, which can attract heavy penalties, and the side effect of reducing access to cleaner technologies.

In another case, three years ago––the notorious Volkswagen diesel scandal––Volkswagen was found guilty of developing software that could enable the company to get past the stringent emission control norms while still polluting the air. The company suffered nearly 2 billion dollars in penalty and had to buy back its cars. Did it lose face and a share of the market? Maybe. Or, who cares!

The investigation is yet to take place; the allegations against the Circle of Five may or may not be proved. I also don’t know whether this smoke is with or without fire.

But I have made up my mind.

“Bro, are you listening (reading this post)? I no longer want a top-of-the-rung foreign car. Firstly, because those reports have cast a doubt in my mind. Will I get what these companies say they sell? Secondly, I cannot possibly enjoy those cars on congested Delhi roads. Some of those companies boast of a good performance like good acceleration and high speeds in excess of 150 kmph or so. Why would I pay for a performance, which I would not get to experience while driving in Delhi? In fact, driving woes had needled me to resign from the Centre for Air Power Studies where I was so happy working.”

What about the status those cars accord to the owners. Well, my Mamaji has a fleet of Mercs, BMWs and the like and I go for a drive with him for the thrill of it. That’s enough for this sapien.

“Bro, are you still listening (reading). I want you to tweak your promise. I’ll be delighted now to have a Tata, Maruti or a Mahindra vehicle rather than one of those cars. With the money you thus save, buy me another Mac (the present one seems to have outlived its utility for me). I will derive greater pleasure tapping the keys of my Mac and publishing my next book rather than getting stuck in a Ferrari or a VW or a Porsche or a… and pitying my state of being.”

A parting thought: A few years after the purchase has been made, what is left of a car (any car)? Are the grapes sour? Whatever may be the case, I am decided.

Why would I pay for a performance that I would seldom get to experience?

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Triphala: The Magic Potion

Babuji CycleMy father was fitter in his nineties than many in their late seventies. He took adequate care of himself. Just for the fun of it, he even rode a bicycle well past his ninetieth birthday. Unto his last days he was an enthusiastic learner. He tried using a tablet and a smartphone to be able to net-surf and Google for the knowledge he sought to acquire.

He was in decent health until he passed away at 93. For a sound body and a sound mind he believed in three things: Eating less, setting aside ego and, being flexible in thoughts. Among other things, he recommended consumption of Triphala for good health and longevity. Triphala is an Ayurvedic mix in powdered form.

Here is an extract of his advice on consumption of Triphala.

Babuji GoogleDosage (in gms): One eighth (1/8) of one’s weight in kgs. It is to be taken every morning (empty stomach) with fresh water. No food must be consumed until one hour after taking the dose. Note: Initial use can cause loose motions.

The effects are pronounced if Triphala is consumed with seasonal additives as follows:

  • August & September: with Rock Salt (1/6 of the dose of Triphala by weight).
  • (For example: If the weight of an individual is 80 kgs, then the quantity of Triphala to be consumed by the person is 1/8 of 80 kgs (in gms) i.e., 10 gms. And the quantity of Rock Salt to be added is 1/6 of 10 gms i.e., 1.7 gms (approx.).
  • October & November: with Sugar (1/6 of the dose of Triphala by weight).
  • December & January: with Ginger Powder (1/6 of the dose of Triphala by weight).
  • February & March: with Bengal pepper/ Long Pepper (less than 1/6 of the dose of Triphala by weight).
  • April & May: with Honey (1/6 of the dose of Triphala by weight).
  • June & July: with Jaggery (Gur) (1/6 of the dose of Triphala by weight).

Health Benefits: Regular consumption of Triphala as described above improves strength, stamina, immunity and vitality. It is said to improve eyesight, attentiveness and texture of the skin.