The Unadorned

My literary blog to keep track of my creative mood swings with poems n short stories, book reviews n humorous prose, travelogues n photography, reflections n translations, both in English n Hindi.

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I'm a peace-loving married Indian male on the right side of '50 with college-going children, and presently employed under government. Educationally I've a master's degree in History, and another in Computer Application. Besides, I've a post graduate diploma in Management. My published works are:- (1)"In Harness", ISBN 81-8157-183-5, a poetry collections and (2) "The Remix of Orchid", ISBN 978-81-7525-729-0, a short story collections with a foreword by Mr. Ruskin Bond, (3) "Virasat", ISBN 978-81-7525-982-9, again a short story collection but in Hindi, (4) "Ek Saal Baad," ISBN 978-81-906496-8-1, my second Story Collection in Hindi.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hard-learnt n Hard-earned

There was no way that Gottfried Leibniz could have known in seventeenth century that the knowledge of binary arithmetic he expounded would be so useful for modern ICT. Sometimes lessons should be learnt without much fuss about its application. People read Bhagvatgeeta without appreciating its meaning. The other day while travelling in Paris I enjoyed Arabic song played by the Algerian driver. Similar is the case with modern poetry. They say poetry should be appreciated in its rhyme and resonance. Knowledge should never go in vain. Or what?
Is little learning a dangerous thing? Not always. Take, for instance, what I reaped out of my little familiarity of one of the most difficult languages in India. Oh yes, I’m talking of Tamil only.
It was donkey’s years ago, say twenty-nine years to be precise, when I was initiated to this language. I was then a probationer in Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussorie, and my roommate was one Mr Mani. He was allotted to Kerala cadre of IAS and if my memory does not ditch me, Mani had a stint in forest service too, prior to his joining this service. That is how he had carried forward his hobby of bird-watching even when he changed his service. He was a Tamil fellow who encouraged me to learn these three sentences in Tamil: (1) Wanakam Talaivar; Namaste Leader; (2) Wang Nalairkingla; How do you do; (3) Pinadi Sandeepam; See you later. That was all I learnt from him, and there was no occasion to follow any grammar, nor any book prescribed for the beginners. It was rather a case of pure mugging up of sentences like we used to do with the slokas in Sanskrit in our high school days just for quoting them in the midst of our essays with or without context.
Days rolled on but the three-sentence rich Tamil knowledge of mine never receded to oblivion. Thirteen years later I had a stint in Port Blair. And Port Blair, as one finds to one’s amusement, is a place of all languages: from Dogri to Assamese; or from Oriya to Mundari. I heard there was a person in Port Blair those days who even knew Esperanto! As for me, I had a fellow who gave me another couple of sentences in Tamil which I again mugged up. They were (4) Nalike Epu Aruwa? When are you coming tomorrow? (5) Inge Sapad Nalla Irika; Food is good here. Now after sixteen long years I landed up in Coimbatore. Oh my God gracious, it was Tamil once again. But then I had to show my brave front and I did exactly that. I solemnly declared to myself that I was going to learn it…come what may. My first impression was it should not be a problem insurmountable. Before coming to this place I had already got some success in writing in Hindi which is also not my mother tongue. So, why not try something challenging? If only I could learn it this time, I would get a status of, what they call it, a polyglot. So, with all earnestness I set about learning alphabets of Tamil. So difficult did it prove to me that while learning I was only empathizing with the children here, thinking how the poor little kids would be making up to it! And beyond the alphabets I just learnt a few vegetable names and a few additional user-friendly sentences. I can enumerate them: (6) Wange, Wange, Ukarenge; Come and be seated; (7) Beet ke Poglam; Let’s go home; (8) Kunjam Sadham kudungele; Please give me some rice;(9) Malaei Neer Weir Neer; Rain water is life’s water.
So, that is all I could gather so far…my knowledgebase does not consist of even ten sentences. I’m acutely aware of the deficiency. And how can I ever expect to gain any fluency. Tamil people talk so fast, as if they have so much to do after finishing their talk! Even on TV I’ve marked the heroines expressing their love before their lovers with a speed of express train! Like Hindi+English=Hinglish, here there is Tamil+English=Tanglish. Even all my knowledge will not enable me to try Tanglish! So in a way what I have been doing in fits and starts could at best be called wasted efforts, isn’t it?
And, lo, there cannot be such a thing called wasted effort on earth, if one is up to learning an additional language. It may be a few words or a few sentences. The other day I was loitering in Montreaux of Switzerland. It was just a sort of window shopping jaunt, for the shops there had mostly downed their shutters but generously kept their display windows well-lit, open and inviting. A few of the shops were still open. One of them attracted my attention and I decided to go inside. I don’t know if anything in particular could have influenced my decision. Maybe the shop had stored many things, from nail clipper to apples to alcohol. I have seen many shops elsewhere, offering weird combination of merchandise. One of them which I can instantly remember is at Port Blair that sells text books and commodes. Don’t believe me? Just take a stroll from Middle point to Clock tower; you’ll see that for yourself. Another shop at Firayalal Chowk in Ranchi that sells pressure cookers and cigarettes—as for the commonality between them, both the items of merchandise, when used, blow out gas. Anyway, maybe similar kind of incompatible items on the shelves of that Montreaux shop might have attracted my notice. So I went in, not alone but with a couple of friends and between ourselves we were talking in our national lingua franca Hindi.
The shopkeeper was seen listening to us intently…and giving a knowing smile, nay an amiable smile. So one of us asked him if by any chance he knew the language we were speaking. To that he answered in negative but hastened to add that he was sure about our nationality. That we were from India was his guess and it was as correct as the colour of our hair! Then I was the fellow to ask him as to where he was from and his answer was that he hailed from Sri Lanka. And the point of emphasis was that he was a Tamil. So could I have kept myself from using Tamil? Aha! It was my hard-learnt language. At least Wanakam Talaivar; Wang nalairkingla should be used and I used them with relish. The name of the shopkeeper was one Thavam and he was visibly happy, for he would not have got any better customer than us while it was time to call it a day! After a hard day’s work Thavam deserved an extra moment of amusement and we were just distributing that!
And by that time I had picked up two apples. When I asked him to bill me for my purchase, he did not do any such thing. Rather he gave that to me as goody, aha, pro bono. Had he billed me I would have paid two Swiss Francs. I took it as his gift of love and accepted it with thanks.
Nadri, Wanakam. [And that was the tenth sentence, fine?]
Back home we friends did not agree on a point. One of them said that it was only possible because the fellow was from South Asia and such a consideration was just a kind of natural extension of goodness which is within all South Asians. Fine, I had nothing to disagree with my friend, but then again, I had also my point to make. It was my knowledge of Tamil that earned me two apples and none should deny that.
And who says a little learning is dangerous thing? Not always.
A. N. Nanda

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Less is Lovely


Suddenly I felt the shudder of a Maltusian nightmare. It was only involuntary yet verily true. A harassed driver on the overcrowded Mahatma Gandhi Setu of Patna or a restless passenger in a cramped local train of Mumbai should understand me better. In Europe things are different; one can even pick up from the floor one's contact lens in a crowded running bus. Their crowd has no comparison with ours.
Visiting a new land should bring new realization in its wake—haven’t great Indian souls (re)discovered India when they are abroad? To a person like me who has lived and breathed pure Indian way for more than half a century, what should come to him so striking in the West? Well, it cannot be the high-rise buildings with glass and steel exterior, for our cities in India now have oodles of them already defining the landscape. The European metro is no longer an out-of-this-world system, for our Delhi Metro is already a world class system and will soon surpass others in spread and volume of passenger movement. Paris is as much a multicultural city as some of our metros, thanks to liberalization and IT business. On the flip side, I have seen beggar-musicians at the city centre of Frankfurt and in the metro rail of Paris, semi-begging pursuits for raising funds for deaf and dumb right before the Louvre or before the famous church of Sacre-Coeur in Paris. Even in one of the alleys of Paris just a few hundred meters from the bank of the Seine near the metro station of Bibliotheque, I saw people rummaging the trash bin at 7:30 PM to grub out the loaves of bread discarded by the restaurant. I did not want to take its photograph for it would have proved nothing. Of course I took a snap of the multilingual notice board at the entry point of Louvre that warned tourists, “Beware of pickpockets inside the museum.”
Then what else could have made me feel that I’m in a land altogether different in ambience?
Well, it is the population sparseness that made me feel I was undoubtedly in a different land. Paris appeared to me a little crowded, but then it was nowhere near Mumbai or Kolkata. Everywhere else I found more buildings than humans. Let me say it a bit figuratively: Sometimes, their shops had more mannequins than men. Even today they have enough room for bicycles to fearlessly ply on their roads and there are dedicated bicycle tracks too. In Paris I saw bikers happily pedaling their way along Champ de Elysses. As per Wikipedia, the Avenue des Champs-Élysées is one of the most famous streets and one of the most expensive strips of real estate in the world. In Netherland I was waiting for a bus at Delft to go to the city centre and the bus did not stop. The simple reason was that it was full. A full bus giving the waiting passengers on the route a slip is nothing unusual in India and so it could not have sprung any surprise on me. But others waiting for the bus were surprised. A Chinese student who had been there for a year or so stated that it was for the first time that he could come across a bus which was really full. Others standing there endorsed the statement. Then I realized what I felt so good about the place: quietude. Yes, what we call it in India, a pin-drop silence. Whereas we believe in the principle the more the merrier, they celebrate the symphony of silence. On our arrival at the airport of Frankfurt we took a shuttle bus to the hotel nearby and en route had many things to talk among ourselves. Our cacophony was the expression of our happiness…and it was an honest expression at that. It was the driver of the bus who could not withstand our noise. And he commanded us to be silent. Our being happy stepping on their land was thus misunderstood. His rudeness had definitely meant insult to many of us, but then, in the process we could get some first-hand knowledge about their profile and preference. Aha! They are businesslike--they're simply silent, serious and successful.

In Switzerland, while going to Lausanne from Geneva airport, I saw vast expanse of farming lands with some crop already in them. But I could not see a single person working there. There were cows grazing but none to look after them. As if the cows in Switzerland behaved as per their model code of conduct! Otherwise, it appeared their farming activities were so much mechanized that they had no need of manpower? Looking at their docile and law-abiding cows I was reminded of a hilarious joke that once I read in one of Khushwant Singh’s Joke books: In Pakistan the owner of a certain poultry firm stopped feeding his birds; he just gave them 25 paise each so that they could buy themselves food of their choice from the market. Joking apart, let me recall what I saw at the stations of Europe—there were only ticketing terminals like a bank of ATMs in a row and nobody was seen selling tickets. The cost of operation is saved this way. In the restaurants, nobody was there to make us a coffee; there was a machine to give us coffee, tea, cappuccino, hot milk, chocolate drink. One should only understand the control panel as to which switch was to be pressed. Oh yes, I learned it just by observing: one should press the switch glowing with letters “Lait” to get hot milk, for “Lait” in French meant milk.
I wonder if they are not thinking of inserting a chip in the body of people which would store information like how many occasions one has travelled in metro or taken coffee from a restaurant or crossed the traffic signal so that it will connect to the banks via wireless to debit his/her accounts! By this it will further reduce labour cost.

In India it is the population that makes all our progress appear pathetically inadequate. It is the big denominator hazard. Everything achieved is divided by population and what one gets is a miniscule average. It may be quality of life index or poverty index. The kind of comfort a bus journey or for that matter train journey one enjoys in Switzerland is just unthinkable here. How many buses will it require to transport the office-goers in Mumbai if only 15 to 20 persons commute per coach that is invariably air-conditioned? Don’t they say, in Mumbai you can more easily get a place in one’s heart than in a local train! Again, we have more people to spit on roads than to clean them. Nobody, not even we Indians visiting their country, ever spits on their roads. Not to speak of roadside defecation, their railway tracks are devoid of trash, for the toilets of their coaches do not drain onto the tracks. Somebody said it humorously, “With a bottle of water selling more than 6 Euros (some 420 rupees) who can afford to drink water just to visit the loo?” Well, a vegetable-eater is more likely to defecate in a train than a meat- and cheese-eater.

Now, let me be serious for once: at the end of the day, can we skirt the issue by telling jokes? True, our most popular politicians have won their elections in the past by telling jokes. Yet, can jokes bring us the level of development achieved in the west? Hot water cannot burn haystacks and jokes cannot melt underdevelopment. We have to work and the starting point is to rein in the population growth…and to develop the living human resources.
A. N. Nanda

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

To Revise an Impression

If you have read my previous post, you must be having a lot to disagree. Switzerland cannot be denigrated the way I wrote. Well, I agree with that. But then again, you can appreciate what all happened to us at Geneva on our way to Lausanne. Leave it, it's now time to recall good things... only good things nothing but the good ones. And nothing can do that better than a picture. Don't they say, a picture speaks a million words? So, here you are.

On our way to Lausanne
View through the window

Colourful Tree in Autumn

A Picturesque Turn

Moon in the Sky: Berne

Berne in Bloom I

A Photo Point

A Picturesque Habitat: Berne

A Landscape: From atop UPU

A Waterscape: Berne

The Distant Alps
A N NandaCoimbatore19-11-2011

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Monday, November 07, 2011

A Swiss Dawn

Would a prisoner of a small and sweltering town feel any different if his prison were situated in the most beautiful holiday destination of the world? Perhaps no. Similar is the kind of feeling in me. Having reached Switzerland, I'm just locked inside the four walls of classroom, or rather condemned to endure stultifying lectures of experts in my professional field. Wistfully looking through the glass panes of the windows, I try to feel the scenic resplendence of the best tourist destination of the wold. Only in the evening I go out to the towns of Ouchi, Montreaux enjoying the metro ride or a trip in TGV train. Even light on streets is not sufficient for taking a snap. If not pictures, I don't know what would I offer in support of my statement that I had visited an interesting place ? Nightlife--oh, not my cup of tea. Can I afford it?
For my last blog post I chose to translate a story from my book “Virasat” and posted it before I left for my Europe trip. The story has a plot of a friend picking pocket of another and then helping him trace it out from the letterbox of his locality. Little did I know then that I would be coming back to the same theme while searching something for the next post. This time neither the friend is a thief nor the setting Indian. It is Geneva, the city of international repute, the destination of all global citizens, the object of one’s wanderlust.
It all happened yesterday, the 6th of November, 2011 on our way from Geneva to Lausanne. The dawn was misty yet bright enough to suggest that the horizon would soon clear up in favour of a bright day ahead . An attractive, cozy Renault Bus was taking us to our destination. There was chill in the air but we were not quite bothered about that. We just looked forward to see the exciting landscape of Swiss countryside. First we decided on a detour so as to spend some time at Lake Geneva before we headed for Lausanne. Now our bus parked near the lake and we got off. We just fanned out around the spot where our bus was parked, drifted less than a kilometer or so, began taking photographs and videos with a vengeance. The Croatian driver was supposed to guard our belongings while we went out.
While leaving the bus, we friends carried our backpacks, but two of us decided against it. They had perhaps done so to move about freely or, maybe, they were assured of the safety of their backpacks inside the bus which had the driver to look after. But they were mistaken. As we came back in less than an hour or so, a rude shock was awaiting us. Yes, we discovered that the dear old backpacks of my friends were missing. And they were the most crucial baggage to be lost, for they contained, among other things, Euros and Francs, a laptop, passports, credit cards, a couple of hard disks, insurance papers and so on. A person touring abroad would expect it the least, let alone remain prepared for the eventuality. And what to do now? Who would help us to get a second passport? To make the matter worse, it was Sunday. Nobody in the embassy would pick up a phone nor would anybody come forward to lend us his bandwidth to key in a quick text to the credit card company to stop misuse of the lost credit card.
And we could not believe it. It was really unimaginable that a rich city in a rich European country could have thieves, that too, to lift bags of those innocent visitors from a poor third world country. Initially our doubt was on the Croatian driver but it soon dissipated as it was discovered that the poor fellow had lost his bag too, which contained cash as well as his passport. Without delay, he gave a call to the police who came in five minutes. As soon as they came, they started asking questions and after eliciting barest minimum information about the incident, they advised us to go to the police station to lodge a report.
Now something near-miraculos happened.
While the two policemen were listening to my friends and their unhappy story, another policeman came rushing there with two bags which were reportedly found in a lavatory nearby. So quickly did they produce them that it appeared as if they were in the know of everything, or as though they were monitoring all the public lavatories of the city on real-time basis through their cctv networks sitting in their office! The contents of those two bags so recovered were examined: the thief had very kindly returned a passport and tablet PC but did not bother to return other stuff like euro or the laptop or the credit cards. We went to the police station, waited there for four hours before the police officer had the time to come out. It was proved once again that policemen, irrespective of their country of operation, behave and react alike, for they only know what is good for public. People suffer because they have no patience to wait for their turn.
Now, having said that, my thought goes to one question: why is there no notice to warn the visitors about the menace, say, for instance, “BE AWARE OF PICKPOCKETS”? Or ‘KEEP A CLOSE WATCH ON YOUR BELONGINGS’? I remember there is one such notice at the boat house [jetty] of Ooty lake. One can find that in any whatever place in India, be it a station or park ,or a subway or a temple. It is done in the interest of the public. Why, then, is the information withheld from the visitors that visit Geneva Lake? Is it due to the fact that Swiss people do not want to admit before the world that there are thieves in their country too, who indulge in mean activities like lifting a bag or picking a pocket? The whole world knows how corrupt people from other countries stash their money in Switzerland. But nobody here cares a damn about this. It is the land where big thieves and petty thieves co-exist. Whereas in India we make the world know that we have pickpockets amongst us—we are inhibition-free about this and we are mindful of the interest of people going round places as visitors. At least we don't hesitate to forewarn them when necessary.
Atithi Devo Bhava”—we in India bow down our head in shame and would not rest until we bring the criminal to justice if a crime is perpetrated against a foreign tourist; our beggars are shamelessly photographed by the foreign visitors; we just ignore their excesses when they walk our streets with less than required clothes or smoke marijuana or peddle LSD; our saints take pride in recruiting foreign followers; we devalue our currency to make the best merchandise of our land affordable to the citizens of other countries…and the list will run further. We love to treat them well, mostly. If a taxi fellow quarrels with a foreign tourist, he does so merely to earn some extra. This is bad, yet consider a while what happens abroad and how we are compelled to shell out our money? Look, at Geneva airport, one even pays to use a trolley to take one’s baggage out of it. The amount one pays to buy a bottle of mineral water would be sufficient to buy enough bottled water to last a fortnight in India!
Let me copy n paste just five stanzas from the text I have drafted for my book “The Roadshow”. Is it my bias or is it an articulation of facts.
In the narrow hovels of a global village
The sun lost its way but not the sermons
With buzz and bang they went high pitch
‘No need to fear, oh heathens, we’re right here’.
Then they dumped all those, rusted and rotten
Our landscape acquired a new look—a junkyard
Our ragpickers worked overtime,
thrilled and delirious
Generosity only prevails, long live the givers.
My small village lost its name
With concrete barricades and iron towers
With barcodes and hallmarks and certifications
With polythene and cellophane
and signages and slogans.
Everything visible got numbers labelled on them
And they got crunched through the digital blend
Now nobody could locate or get located
And none can hide from their ubiquitous presence.
And then it happened as assured (predicted?)
We bought and sold everything
And got money to buy money
And only the money, on its last count.
A. N. Nanda

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