Jay, Veeru & India-China Relations

What if the world we live in was Utopia? And the countries of the world played golf (rather than rugby)?

Utopia is Utopia. To simplify the other analogy, golf is a game in which, ideally speaking, one plays with one’s own ball, as it lies. Emphasis added on ‘as it lies’. So, what if countries pursued their agenda without jeopardising the interests of others?

Or, at least, countries did not behave like the proverbial dog in the manger––doing little on their own but raising hue and cry when another one tried to do something in its best interest. Allusion here is to the countries of the world (including India) not doing their (enough) bit to gain from the trade and commerce that is available to them but envying (read ‘being jealous of ’) China. For example,countries not doing enough to woo the Dark Continent or Latin America but raising a hue and cry when China lands there and starts reaping benefits; and sending those benefits back home to Beijing.

Another example is the Chinese initiative on the connectivity of countries of the region––Xi’s ambitious OBOR Project. The countries that have joined the mega project know what is good for them and what is not. They have got on the bandwagon with conscious volition. Period.

Why should others (read India) bark?

Because in real life, this world is not Utopian, and the countries are not playing golf. And even those that appear to be playing golf are not playing the ball as it lies––honestly. At least one American President in the recent years has been notorious for(blatantly) improving the lie of the ball. Let’s spare the US and the US Presidents for the time being, since China and India are the subject matter of this post.

It was fine so long as China was pursuing its trade and commerce for its own good in the countries surrounding India; a little adverse effect also would have been an acceptable outcome. But then,China began pursuing its interests at the cost of India’s. The GMR issue in the Maldives, for example, was a setback for India.

India-China Relations

If that was not enough, China started establishing its military bases in return for the infrastructure it developed for the host countries. Acquisition of Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka and the islands leased to it by the Maldives are some of the many cases in point. Besides, the CPEC running through POK is a cause for great concern for India. China’s initiatives in Nepal and the Doklam standoff confirm that it is not Utopia; it is not golf either.

So, what could or should be India’s approach?

Those who occupy offices in the North and South Blocks and steer the destiny of this country know it best, but here is a simple suggestion for whatever it’s worth.

Jay-Veeru Relations

For a moment, recall the Jay (Amitabh Bachchan), the Veeru (Dharmendra) and the Mausi (Basanti’s Aunt) of the Bollywood classic, Sholay. Recall also, how Jay paints a (dark) picture of Veeru for Mausi: “…a good guy until he drinks. He drinks when he is sad. He is sad when he loses money… gambles, visits brothels, blah… blah… otherwise a good guy.”

Can India do to China what Jay did to Viru? Can India paint China’s character for its prospective host countries the Jay way: “China coming to your country would be a great thing. You’ll be able to boast about enviable infrastructure. Your country will progress in leaps and bounds. But of course, the Chinese will use their work force and machinery and building material. So what if your people don’t get employment, they’ll learn good things by being (sorry) spectators. Besides, there will be signs of prosperity, so what if you have to seek more loans to pay the interest on the Chinese debt…. After all being in perpetual debt is not all that bad a thing for a country. Things could be even worse. Haven’t Sri Lanka, the Maldives and even Pakistan benefitted from Chinese largesse?”

Two things need to be borne in mind while dealing with China…

One: For long India has been responding (reacting) to Chinese moves. Pre-empting China on known turfs will consume much less effort than dowsing the fires it lights for India in the future.

Two: Countries are run by people. By human beings who are made up of flesh and bones and blood. And they have a mind. And they have a mind that knows (learns) fear. The fear of notional (and national) loss and slavery is a fear. It can give nightmares, if not to (a corrupt) leadership, at least to the intelligentsia of a country. That fear is the key.

A conscientious three-pronged effort by the diplomatic corps, by those who pursue national interest on parallel tracks and by those who promote people to people contacts with other countries, can go some way in dealing with a less sporting neighbour.

Aborting Crime

Last week the scourge of deadly knife crime in the UK tried to vie with the Brexit issue for space in the British polity and life. An alarming 285 stabbing deaths were reported in the year ending March 2018––the highest number of such killings within a 12-month period since record keeping began in 1946.

Critics blame the austerity measures to reduce UK’s debt levels following the global economic crisis of 2008 for the increase in violence. They say cuts in support services and opportunities for children have left communities increasingly disadvantaged and fearful. Disaffection, anger, fear and the lack of positive alternatives could also be causes of children’s violent behaviour. Desperate circumstances might be nudging children to form gangs and resort to knife attacks.

Graphic courtesy CNN

Some believe that cuts in police staffing levels have aggravated the problem. The number of police officers in the UK has fallen from 1,71,600 nine years ago to fewer than 1,50,000 last year. Some think that a diminished police force has led to low detection and prosecution rate for crimes.

“We will only defeat the scourge of violence if we understand and address the complex root causes,” said Prime Minister May. She rejected direct correlation between falling police numbers and violent crime. London’s Metropolitan Police Service thought otherwise. Boosting police funding as well as widening controversial stop-and-search powers to tackle knife crime has been recommended as a way to deal with the menace. The defence secretary has offered to send in the military to assist the police to deal with the menace.

It is a complex issue.

Needless to dive into statistics; the situation in India is equally alarming, if not worse––from petty thefts and chain-snatching to robberies, rapes, murders and gang wars, we have them all. Rapes, domestic violence, and crimes against women, is a category in itself. While the Brits have to concentrate on one type of crime, namely knife attacks, Indians have a wide range to deal with.

To look for answers, it would be worthwhile to look at the crime graph in the US in 1989 when it had just about peaked––violent crime had risen 80 per cent in the preceding 15 years. Then, in the early 1990s the crime rate started falling, or rather plummeting. The fall was so sharp that analysts ignored the drop and continued to predict worse days ahead until the crime rate stabilised at a very low level and people started walking the streets without fear.

The natural questions were: “What happened?” “Where have all the criminals gone?”

Graphic courtesy The Hindu

The answers were obvious: “Innovative policing strategies and larger police force; drug controls; aging population,gun control laws; economic growth; and a whole lot of other ever-soobvious reasons.”

Levitt and Dubner, in their book titled Freakonomics came out with an explanation––beyond the obvious ones mentioned above, and the many more propounded by experts––for the steep fall in the crime rate. They drew attention to an unforeseen long gestating demographic change that had reduced crime, perhaps more than all the other efforts put together.

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court of the US legalised abortion (Roe vs Wade case). Levitt and Dubner explained the judgement thus: “When a woman does not want a child, she usually has good reason. She may be unmarried or in bad marriage. She may consider herself too poor to raise a child. She may think her life is too unstable or unhappy, or she may think that her drinking or her drug use will damage the baby’s health. She may believe that she is too young or hasn’t yet received enough education. She may want a child badly but in a few years, not now. For any of the hundred reasons, she may feel that she cannot provide a home environment that is conducive to raising a healthy and productive child.” Levitt and Dubner observed that before Roe vs Wade, only the daughters of middle or upper class families could arrange and afford a safe illegal abortion.

Children born to women who wanted to abort pregnancy (but couldn’t) were likely to grow up to be criminals. There is a data galore to arrive at that not-so-pleasing inference.

Levitt & Dubner conclude: “When the government gives a woman the opportunity to make her own decision about abortion, she generally does a good job of figuring out if she is in a position to raise the baby well. If she decides, she can’t, she often chooses abortion.”

In the parting wisdom on the subject, which Levitt & Dubner share in their book, perhaps India, UK and the world can find solution to the problem of crime: “But once a woman decides she will have her baby, a pressing question arises: what are parents supposed to do once a child is born?”

Chocolates, Child & An Attractive Offer

Jim studies in a school. All children do. But his school is a school with a difference, where four R’s (the fourth ‘R’ being learning by rote) are not a part of a curriculum. Education is imparted in a rather unique way. When a child sees an aeroplane and asks a question, he is told about the flying machine and is waylaid (“waylaid,” seems to be an inappropriate word; “encouraged,” might be a better choice) to ask more questions. Sometimes the learning that starts from an aeroplane covers gliders, helicopters, fighter aircraft, sky, clouds, eagles, butterflies, flowers, colours, Wright Brothers, parachutes… literally everything that possibly strikes a child’s imagination in any direction. The teacher makes use of every tool in her bag to kindle the child’s imagination. Like in this case, she resorts to origami to make a paper aircraft, and she makes use of drawing to sketch a colourful butterfly.

Origami

The parents get educated too, and take charge at home. “Never say, NO to a child,” is the one thing they bear in mind always.

The other day, Jim received some chocolates from his uncle, forty of them in a box, and wanted to eat all of them instantly. An interesting conversation ensued. A lifetime of education is sandwiched between two of Jim’s utterances to William, his father: ‘Dad I want to eat all the chocolates now’ and ‘Dad, I don’t want to eat all the chocolates now.’ Here goes the conversation:

Jim: “Dad, I want to eat all the chocolates now. I like them so much. Please, Dad.”

William: “Can you eat them all? How many are there? Count!”

“One, two, three, … 39.” [Jim’s counting skill gets exercised.]

“Good! You ate one at noon. What’s the time now?”

“The hour hand is between five and six and the minute hand is at six,” Jim scratches his chin. “Hmm! It’s half past five.” [Jim gets practice in reading the hands of a clock and telling time.]

“Very good, indeed! I like that. I am so happy, you can now tell me the time. Here’s another chocolate for you.” [Jim feels victorious. He feels proud of his achievement. Happily he removes the wrapper and pops the chocolate in his mouth.]

“Is it sticky,” asks William, and without waiting for an answer, continues, “You know Jim, chocolate sticking between the teeth can cause tooth decay. Do you remember Tom (Jim’s friend) visiting the clinic with toothache?”

“But I brush my teeth twice everyday, and I’ll do it without fail even today.” [Jim re-commits himself to good hygiene.]

“How many chocolates would be left if I give you two more?”

“Thirty-six.” [Arithmetic again.]

“Do you know how many days would thirty-six chocolates last if you eat four chocolates every day,” William asked Jim raising his hands and gesturing as if the remaining stock of chocolates would last an eternity.

“Hmm! I don’t know?” [Jim concedes ground but is lured by William’s gesture into finding out: “How many days?”]

“Let’s see.”

Chocolates & Arithmetic

William gets a sheet of drawing paper and nudges Jim to draw several coloured boxes using sketch pens and a ruler. He makes Jim number them too. [Jim is excited getting to use his Dad’s sketch pens and ruler. He learns to draw squares using the ruler. Then William makes Jim place four chocolates in the area marked by each coloured box on the drawing sheet. He makes the little one count the boxes that are filled with chocolates––each box signifying a day.]

“Those chocolates will last me nine days if I have four a day.” [It was a ‘Eureka’ moment for Jim. He was excited at arriving at that mathematical conclusion. William cheered the little boy, “Oh my God! Those chocolates will last you nine days!” There was extra emphasis on, “N-I-N-E.”]

Doll for Ann

“Besides, you’ll have sufficient chocolates to share with Ann (Jim’s cousin) when she visits us over the weekend. I’ll also make some dolls for Ann using the chocolate wrappers. Do you want to enjoy the chocolates for N-I-N-E (even more emphasis) days, share them with Ann and present her some dolls too,” William proposed. [The offer was too attractive for Jim to decline.]

“Dad, I don’t want to eat all those chocolates now.”

[Jim’s chocolates lasted more than a week. More importantly, he was mighty happy sharing some with Ann.]

[Note: This story was narrated to me by my nephew, Abhinav Goyal.] [For Abhinav: Thanks dear, for sharing that story. Please excuse the shortcomings in narration.]

WeTwo & Valentine’s Day at 60

Look around, and you find romantic feelings and relations accoutred by expensive cars, precious diamond rings, nice clothes and fashionable restaurants, and sometimes, even by cruises in the Caribbean. Besides, the expression of love, affection and care is generally confined to a day in a year, the Valentine’s Day.

Doesn’t really appeal, at least, to me.   

Is it a case of sour grapes? Is it because I can’t afford all of those material things to express my feelings? May be. But do I envy those who can? No, certainly not.

Valentine’s Day for Chhaya and I…

My memory goes back to the period of nine months for which we were engaged before we got married––some people use the term courtship to describe that period. We used to (actually) pen a letter almost daily, for in those days, there were no mobile (smart) phones, no WhatsApp; STD calls were costly. On Sundays––because on Sundays the call tariffs were less––we would book a call through the Telephone Exchange and wait for a greater part of the day to speak for just about three minutes (with people waiting in queue, giving smiles that made one feel uneasy). There was no Internet, no Skype or FaceTime. It wasn’t possible to shuttle often between Agra and Ujjain––600 kms plied by some very slow moving trains. And although seniors always cooperated, leave was a privilege, not a right. These periods of temporary separation were a norm even later, when I was posted in the exotic east (Tezpur, Assam) and still later, in Bangalore and in Chandinagar.

So, for Chhaya and I, Valentine’s Day used to be any day of the year we were together––any number of times. I remember, once during our courtship I had taken a small (brass) mirror for her tote bag. It was not the mirror but the message that I wrote for her that she fell for; and still treasures it. It read: “It’s my heart; you’ll always find yourself in it.

To Chhaya with Love

I am nearing my 60th birthday (Chhaya? She is still young)…

We still do not wait for the Valentine’s Day to express our feelings of love and care for each other. A small thing that I do in return for everything (“everything” just cannot convey the feeling) she does to make our humble abode a sweet home is to prepare the bed tea/ coffee every morning. She loves coffee; I am fond of tea and we have it with biscuits. Lately we have been eating cream biscuits.

She is still half asleep when she kisses me, “Good Morning.” When she does open her eyes, she finds what I call ‘a-refreshing-cup-of-coffee’ because she seldom complains about the coffee. And, if and when she does have something adverse to talk about, she blames the brand or the vintage of the coffee, or even the quality of the milk, rather than my preparation. But, early last week, she started complaining about the cream in the biscuits. Saying that there was something bad about it, she would claw it away with her nails before eating them. This had gone on for about a week––a not too pleasant beginning of her day. Until yesterday…

While getting the tray laden with coffee/ tea and biscuits, I realised that the cream in the biscuit would again be the irritant to start her day with. “How can I change that,” I thought, as I headed towards the bedroom. Then I turned back, scraped the cream of the biscuits neatly with a knife and placed red hearts (drawn with a sketch pen on small bits of paper) between the biscuits (in place of the cream) and headed back to the bedroom. After the usual Good Morning hug, still in half sleep, she picked up a biscuit and tried to claw away the cream. In its stead in her nails came a little heart. Surprised, she opened her eyes, rubbed them to see that small piece of paper. Then she looked at me wide-eyed.

WeTwo at 60

I have no words to describe the expression of love in those eyes. Suffice it to say that the love she expressed in her eyes was far greater and more intense than the one she expressed when I got her an exclusive diamond ring on her birthday a few years ago.

WeTwo celebrated our last Valentine’s Day at 6 am on February the 13th, 2019.

The next? Anytime soon!

To all you there: “Happy Valentine’s Day!”

Beyond Work & Golf

Sapan Das.

My meeting with him was incidental. It (just) happened.

When I was posted to Tezpur in the December of 2000, I had to leave behind my family in Delhi to avoid disruption in our son’s studies. He was in the XI standard then, and had to appear in the board exams in the following year.

In the Exotic East it was rather difficult for a forced bachelor (that is the term commonly used in the Air Force for an Air Warrior separated temporarily from his family) to spend the time after work hours. I had taken to serious golfing to put my spare time to good use but then, there were days when weather stymied that effort.

It was one of those days when, although it was not raining, the golf course was flooded and I had little to do. So I started my scooter and headed aimlessly towards the sleepy town of Tezpur. I stopped en route to visit Sapan Das. I thought I’d buy one of those wooden rhinos sold at his complex. Normally I would have requested one of my colleagues to buy one for me.

Hidden from view, a little off the road among the trees was his set up. A better word would be ‘Ashram’––‘Ashram’, because he used to sculpt his masterpieces in that serene environment. He had mastered the art of carving a rhino in wood. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he could carve a rhino with his eyes closed. All his creations were identical to the minutest detail––only the size varied.

Sapan’s Masterpiece

Everyone posted in the region used to buy one for self and more for gifting. It was almost a ritual, and I had gone there to fulfil it.

In his hamlet among the trees, there was a low platform, half the size of a volleyball court, covered with a thatched roof. He sat there on the floor engrossed in chiselling a piece of wood. He greeted me with a smile and pointed at a cane chair opposite him.

“Dada, I have come to buy a rhino,” I said, as I sat down.

“Sure Sir, please choose one from those kept on the shelves,” he pointed at a rack. It amazed me that he was looking at me while his deft fingers worked unceasingly on his next masterpiece. Awestruck, I postponed the selection of a piece and sat down again in the chair and started observing the master.

I sat mesmerised for the greater part of an hour.

The spell broke when Sapan Das took a break. Otherwise a quiet person, he opened up when I made small talk over a cup of tea. He had won several national and international awards for his work. He had also been training youth in the area. A large number of them were learning the art from him. I sat for another hour looking at him work. I bought a rhino and returned to the Air Force Station only to come back to Sapan’s abode the next day.

Golf, my passion, had taken a back seat.

My second day at his premises: he was amused at me watching him work so intently. Soon it became a routine. I would visit him whenever time permitted and just watched him work. It used to be a soothing experience; next best to a round of Yoga.

Then, one day, I asked him, “Dada, why do you carve only rhinos? Why not any other thing?”

“Because it represents our region; it symbolises Assam. Besides, it sells and generates funds for me to train these children.”

“For a change, why don’t you carve something else?”

“What else?” He was quizzical.

“I’ll get something for you.”

Sapan’s New Creation

The next day, I brought a clay dog for him to copy. For him, it was a refreshing change. He got down happily to carving a replica. While he did so, I took a piece of wood with his permission and tried my hand at woodcarving with my Swiss Knife. This amused Sapan Das to no end. He encouraged me by giving me a chisel and a larger piece of wood to carry to my room and work on it in my own time.

My Maiden Effort

A few days later, when I went to collect the wooden dog, I surprised Sapan Das with my work––a statue of Ganesha. He was mighty happy with my maiden effort. He appreciated my work and wax-polished it for me.

A Professional Work by an Amateur

I continued visiting Sapan for the rest of my stay in Tezpur.

Observing me learning woodcarving, one of my men too got interested. He was talented and picked up the art really fast. I was delighted when he carved a miniature replica of Sapan’s iconic rhino, and presented it to me. Still later, he carved a large, 18-inch statue of Ganesha––an absolutely professional work by an amateur.

Sapan Das is one of the most unforgettable characters I have met in my life. Time spent at his abode, was time well spent. There I learnt that there was life beyond work and golf.

That Feverish Feeling…Gone!

The other day I had a feverish feeling after an exhausting afternoon at work. I wanted to be horizontal as soon as I got back home. But then, hitting the sack before sunset makes me feel even more miserable; it has been ingrained in me that “Lethargy embraces those who sleep until after dawn or go to sleep when the sun’s still up.” I didn’t want to be more miserable than I already was. So, I avoided lying down, instead did a thing, which relieves me of such physical condition, always. I called my mother (nearing 90). Speaking with her is ever so refreshing.

“Charan Sparsh, Bai,” I said. “How are you doing? How’s your joint pain?”

“I am doing well. How about you? You don’t sound alright,” she said with concern.

“Nothing at all, just a bit feverish and exhausted. Will be fine soon.”

“Why don’t you try Peepli. It’ll relieve you.”

“Peepli?”

“It is in that small plastic box of home remedies I gave you. Chew one every three to four hours. Should do you good.”

I popped one Peepli and chewed it for a while until it became very soft, and then swallowed it. By next morning, I felt much better. I popped and chewed one after breakfast, and my fever was gone. I took another one later in the day and that feverish feeling was forgotten.

I was fit as a fiddle when my mother called later in the evening. I took the recipe of the home remedy from her in case I needed it again. Here it goes:

Step 1.  Soak some Peepli (Long Pepper) overnight in buttermilk, or curds diluted with water.

Step 2.  Next morning roll the Long Pepper in table salt.

Step 3.  Roast the (salted) Peepli on a hot plate (Tawa) until it is dry and crisp.

Disage: Chew one salted (and roasted) pepper three to four times a day to get over that feeling of exhaustion and fever. It works for most people. This home remedy for feverishness and exhaustion has no known side effects. (Note: Long Pepper (or Peepli/ Lendi Peepal) is available at shops (Sattar) selling Indian herbs.

For Banwarilal, Life Goes on Regardless

A lot of water has gone past the bridge since I met Banwarilal last. Today, I met him after more than eight months. I saw him sitting at the place where I used to drop him whenever I happened to give him a lift in the past. I pulled up by his side to say, “Hi!”

“Hello Banwarilal, how are you doing? Tired today? Relaxing here before you resume your walk home?”

“I am doing fine, Sir. Not really tired but barely able to walk,” he said with a diminishing smile.

“What happened?”

“Life has been difficult since we met last. A vehicle ran over my foot, crushing it almost. I was bedridden for several months. In the meanwhile I lost my job. Now, I am working for a contractor––more work, and less pay. Earlier I used to get Rs 9000/-, now it is a mere 7,500/-.”

“I feel sorry for you. I hope your son is doing well enough to take care of the family?”

Banwarilal.jpg“He has also suffered much setback. He can barely support himself and his wife. Our lives are in a mess.” He massaged his foot as he spoke to me. A chill ran down my spine when I saw the scar marks on his foot.

I had no doubt that he had gone through hell.

“Uhmm,” I encouraged him to continue, hoping that it would make him feel lighter.

“Now, I have only one desire––to be able to repay a loan of Rs 40,000/- before I die. If I don’t pay it,” he looked at the sky and continued, “I’ll have to settle the score up there.”

I stood speechless for a period that felt like an eternity. He had refused monetary help last time I had offered him cash. Would he accept it this time on?

I re-mustered my thoughts and offered to give him some money to repay part of his debt. I thought his hardship might have changed his outlook to such unconditional assistance.

Smile returned to his face, “Thank you Sir, for that generous offer, but I don’t want to be in debt of a kind person like you. God willing, I shall be able to settle all my debts before I knock at His door.”

I didn’t want to leave it at that so I continued talking with him for some more time, clicked a picture (something that will inspire me in the times to come). He told me that he takes a break everyday at that spot between 5:00 pm and 5:30 pm before resuming his walk back home.

I bade him goodbye, hoping to meet him again. Soon.

On my agenda now, is to work up an offer that he cannot decline when we meet next. I owe it to him for teaching me some of the good things in life.