Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A READER'S CRITIQUE OF ALL MY BOOKS




A READER'S CRITIQUE OF ALL MY BOOKS

I am posting this review of my books by a person 15 years elder and whom I have never met before. This was forwarded to me by a cousin who had lent all my three books to him since he is an avid reader. I am posting this in my blog since it cannot be posted on any other site and this a feedback on these four years I had spent in writing and completing the three books. I am immensely grateful to him for having made time for writing this review I thought I should share it with all the readers of my blog. This has given me the impetus to go ahead and start my next book.


From: Rajan Narasimhan <nsrajan7935@gmail.com>
Sent: Tue, 04 Dec 2018 13:31:35
To: 
hemakb@rediffmail.com

Subject: Mr Subbu & his Books.

 
Hello. 

I am sending herewith my impressions of Mr. Subbu's books.  If you are sending feedback on the books to Amazon, you are at complete liberty to Add, Alter, Amend and Edit this as you deem fit.   It may be too long for a review on Amazon. You can yourself be the best judge. of that.  I enjoyed reading the books and shall return them soon.  Thanks for considering me worthy of reviewing them. 
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" When you settle down to read an autobiographical 'first' book by someone who had passed out from IIT Kharagpur, and then gone on to turn a Banker by profession, the very last thing you would expect is to be reading an account of his search for 'truth' within and, a conversation with himself, while deeply and critically examining his feelings, his thoughts, and his relationships with all those he came into contact with in his 'personal'  life, particularly with the closest members of his own family. 

As someone 15 years older to him, I am struck by the remarkable depth of his insight into himself and the inferences, the feelings and interpretations that he gives to the way he sees others around him and his interactions with them. I find a striking similarity that surprises me, with my own experiences in his narration. Lucidity is the hallmark of his writing on an abstruse subject into which he has ventured, and he does very well to keep the reader engaged and involved, despite the book being a somewhat dry account of his own life and times, peppered with interesting anecdotes.  I recollect reading a long time ago that, “When one approaches old age 'dotage' converts itself into 'anecdotage'."  (Perhaps this is the reason why youngsters these days take to their heels at the very sight of an imminent and verbose grandparent). The difference Mr. Subbu makes in his narration is by embarking on a storytelling manner interspersed with incidents, small and significant, trite and pertinent, pleasant and morbid, which is what makes one read on and get on the same 'page' with him. (no pun intended).

The human mind is similar to a churning sea, with myriad thoughts whirling around in it all the time, like the unceasing, inexorable waves and surf beating against the seashore, or the violent swirls in a whirlpool.  Most of us are incapable of remembering, sorting and analyzing them, as we merely experience them and, fortuitously for us, forget most of them (Inability to forget can become a perpetual, haunting nightmare. Thank God for our forgetfulness). 

Mr Subbu has displayed a rare ability to recall even the smallest and relatively insignificant incidents, conversation, feelings and his own thoughts from a very long time ago in his life to be sufficiently inspired to compile them in the form of a long narrative.  However, it is one thing to have a good memory of things that happened in the long past. Most of us have such memory. But to accurately recollect the contemporaneous thoughts, feelings and the ethos of particular situations and the milieu in which one existed, and to proceed to make a credible and interesting narrative out of it is a commendable exercise that Mr Subbu has succeeded in performing.  It is said that the highest compliment that one can pay a writer on reading his work is to exclaim, " I wish I had said that". Mr Subbu has achieved that in his books, and more significantly so, as the subject of his books is hardly one that will have readers avidly rushing out to place preprint orders for their copies. This is all the more to be appreciated when one considers that Mr Subbu began with a solid foundation in the study of Technology and Engineering, and then veered off to the diametrically opposite field of Banking, spending all his working life in Banks with figures and Balance Sheets. One can easily perceive from his books that the dull daily humdrum of a Banking career did not deprive him of his sense of humor, as witnessed by occasional sparks of facetiousness and gaiety in his otherwise serious narratives. 

Most writers, even eminent ones, have confessed that writing does not come naturally to them and they have to concentrate, work and sweat to produce their offerings. Thus, to embark upon the writing of a book that could run into over 200 pages is in itself no mean task, especially for someone who was not into writing until after his retirement from active life. (A Diary can hardly be the same as a 'Book').  But, to find matter to write upon at length and, to hold the reader's attention all the way, needs strong confidence in one's own ability to write, besides possessing the talent to do so. That he has already written three books in quick succession is proof enough that he has both traits.

My impressions on his books (and about Subbu himself) rely more on his first attempt, ' I am just an ordinary man' (Can't help recalling Rex Harrison singing exactly that as Prof. Henry Higgins in 'My Fair Lady') than on the next two renderings. I am sure he would have been inspired by the old saying, "Nothing succeeds like success", having found that it was after all so easy to write a 'Book', beginning only from randomly jotted down recollections of his experiences and feelings from a distant past.in a Diary,  only to be taken out after his retirement and now converted into his three "Books". Perhaps, there is a lesson in it somewhere for budding writers. 

He is obviously very well read, as is evident from his narrations interspersed with quotations and references. I see that he has taken great care to keep his own writing style simple and readable.  Fortunately for him, his long years in the dull occupation of Banking have not blunted his talent as a raconteur. I wish he had injected more of his sense of humor into his books, particularly the second and third books, though admittedly, the subject of his third book is perhaps too morbid for humor. I do hope he picks a ‘livelier’ subject for his fourth, which I am sure is already on the anvil. I am 83 plus, and I do not WANT to think of the inevitable 'Autumn', despite being so much closer to it.  All the same, the subject of a book need not necessarily be a perfect reflection of the writer's mind, and the writer can be quite detached from the kernel of his book. So far, so good. 

I shall end with complimenting Mr. Subbu, not only for the sheer effort and labor of writing three books in just four years, which is itself a highly commendable achievement but also for his style and narration of writing on subjects that are not designed to be popular with all readers. 



Saturday, December 15, 2018

AUTUMN LEAVES - IMAGES OF THE FALL AND WINTER 2018


AUTUMN LEAVES - IMAGES OF THE FALL AND WINTER 2018
In 2014 I had written in my book ‘I am just an Ordinary Man’ what at that time seemed prophetic for it was a projection into an imaginary future. Four years later as I sit here writing I can’t help but wonder that it has come to pass. Though the timeline is stretched beyond the two years that I had indicated, the images are now very much real. I am reproducing the relevant portion of the chapter here.
My wife and I just returned after a six-month stay with our elder daughter. This time we came back with the onset of winter, having spent the entire autumn there. I watched the brilliant colors slowly fade away and the leaves fall to the ground and before I left, I experienced the first snow of winter; a sheet of white shroud covering the ground and what lay underneath. It was once again a reminder of what lay in store; the end of a cycle. During my stay at my daughter’s place, I was soaked initially in the surrounding colors and above all in the company of my grandson. I was seeing him after three years. As I watched the leaves slowly turn brown and wither away, the rumblings started once again. My writings had been sporadic and as I read what I had written over the last one year, I sensed a lack of conviction in what I was trying to say. It was as if I had already exhausted myself and there was nothing more.
The year that has passed by has been satisfying with the publishing of my book ‘Autumn Leaves’ and subsequently the trip to the US to spend time with my grandson and daughter and revisiting the locations where I have based my books especially the last one and find that I have not erred much in my descriptions.
The colors and grandeur of the Fall and the looming grey despondency of winter are images that I carried back with me this time in the form of photographs which I took in abundance not wanting to miss the moments of transition indicative of the turbulence in our mind.
Excerpts from my book ‘Autumn Leaves’. The accompanying images tell it all


The winter chill had set in and with it, the last leaves of the sugar maple tree in the backyard floated, slowly drifted and fell to the ground. Soon the first flakes of snow would come and cover them with a white shroud. Vishwam loved the fall and the changing colors that seemed to envelop him all around. And as the leaves of the trees went through their complete cycle from several shades of green, then from yellow to orange, and finally to red in autumn, he would start feeling restless for he never wanted to see them turn brown and fall to the ground. He hated winter.
Winter had come and gone and so had spring and summer. It was Autumn once again, Kavita and he sat in the backyard of their home letting the colors of the fall sink into their consciousness. And when the leaves turned brown and fell on the ground, they were busy clearing their garden and preparing for the coming winter. Krishnan no longer felt sad as the first snow-flakes arrived, for he knew – ‘there would always be the spring, and the river would flow again after it was frozen.’



However, I did not hate the winter. Just like I had drenched myself in the colors of Autumn, I watched the blizzard blow from the confines of the house and marveled at the changing landscape outside. The cold only made me feel more alive and resilient.




“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger—something better, pushing right back.”
– Albert Camus
We cannot stop the winter or the summer from coming. We cannot stop the spring or the fall or make them other than they are. They are gifts from the universe that we cannot refuse. But we can choose what we will contribute to life when each arrives.
– Gary Zukav




Thursday, October 18, 2018

AUTUMN LEAVES - A REALITY CHECK








AUTUMN LEAVES – A REALITY CHECK

It’s been a month since I came here hoping to catch the Fall and relive some of what I had written in my last book especially the changing colors of the leaves. I often go to the balcony to look at the maple trees and all I have seen till date are the green leaves and some brown leaves strewn on the ground. I am still waiting for the color but in all counts, it could take some more time, two weeks I expect. But whenever I go out for a drive during the weekends for that is the only time my daughter finds time to take us out, I carry the camera along in case I sight a few trees heralding the arrival of the fall. It’s happening slowly, and I was able to capture a few spectacular ones, especially in the Forest Park and in the suburbs. Every day when my grandson comes back from school, he digs into his bag and takes out one or two leaves that he had picked up from the ground. They are of different shapes, some dry and some adorned with different shades of red and orange. Then he would proceed to describe whether it was a maple or a sycamore. I wish I could have talked to him while writing my book; I could have embellished it with more color.

Well, the wait continues and so do my hopes that more people find the necessary interest and motivation to get my book and read it. I feel this more and more for I think that this has been my best and most intense effort. But of late this enthusiasm is waning out and slowly it is being replaced by a sense of acceptance that is how it will be. Four months have passed since the book ‘Autumn Leaves – Seasons of Life’ was published. Though my expectations were never high I expected a decent reception as my two previous books though not great successes, they were decent in terms of sales as well as reviews. Social media is the only outlet for self-published authors (a post on which I had written earlier in my blog). The reality is that about 25% percent of the number of friends you have in the virtual world, respond with messages of congratulations and best wishes. Many of them stop with that and the job is done. Lesser people come out with reviews (a review is the most important thing for an author both in terms of exposure as well as well as having a critical look at his own work).

Like waiting for the Autumn Leaves to bloom so also I still wait. I do not want the leaves to turn brown and fall to the ground before that. I call this the reality check. But as the days pass I have slowly started to accept that I write because that is what I want to do and not give much thought whether others are interested or not. But it is a bitter pill to swallow. That is why I have of late stopped posting on my social media pages asking people to buy or write a review. If they do, I accept I will be happy. The reality is that writing books have given me immense satisfaction and taken me through an alternate world through the characters I create. Maybe the next book I write, I will rest content putting it on my blog and not spend my energy and resources in self-publishing. I do not have the marketing skills nor the necessary back up for that. I also resolve not to get carried away by the congratulatory messages and best wishes of friends on social media. I guess everyone has his own priorities and I am sensitive to that.

Meanwhile, I shall continue to share my joy by posting photographs of autumn and its colors. Maybe that shall bring some joy. 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

MY BOOKS – A Confession and a Submission



MY BOOKS – A Confession and a Submission

I start this with a disclaimer – my intention is not to use this post as a marketing gimmick. I have learned a few lessons during my writing life. For me writing is not a profession, it is a passion. I have understood it more and more as I wrote my books.

Recently a friend of mine from the old book club days at Gandhinagar, Gujarat, Ms. Elizabeth Koshy came out with her book ‘A Palimpsest’. Ms. Koshy a prolific writer and contributor to various newspaper and journals, the book is a collection of her writings over four decades. She is also the founder of the Chaitanya School at Gandhinagar. While talking to me she said that the proceeds from the sale of her books will go towards charity. That I thought was a very noble thing to do and it set me thinking.

For people like us who have been endowed with decent means to sustain ourselves and need not look towards making gains from the sale of our books this perhaps is one of the ways to give back something to those who have for no fault of theirs are leading a life devoid even of the necessities of life materially and on an emotional plane. During my writing life, I have had the opportunity to observe life more than I would have done earlier; perhaps I have had more time on my hand especially after retirement or maybe it is due to the awakening to the realities of existence. It has not been possible for me to indulge in activities that require physical exertion. It is the truth that I have not been able to contribute meaningfully to such causes because I did not know how. But now I know that I can make a difference through what I think I do best – writing. It is not that I write blockbusters and earn a lot of money – I even have trouble making my friends buy my books.

I have asked myself the question ‘Why I write?’ many times and have not been able to truthfully answer it. Is it because I want to get across to others so that I am understood as to what I am or because I am trying to understand more about the world around me? Or is it because I am seeking recognition and adulation or want to be a commercial success? It could have been a combination of all these. But I know one thing, I write because I like it. I also like it when someone says that they like what I write.

My travel through my books have brought me closer to understanding myself, empathizing with the lives I am surrounded by and I feel I have become a better man. The latest book ‘Autumn Leaves – Seasons of life’ takes me further in accepting the reality of aging parents and the loneliness that overtakes them. I have looked at physically challenged persons and the irrelevance of old practices which weighed heavily against women, in ‘Light in the Darkness’ and ‘A Tale of Two Widows’ respectively in my earlier book ‘Darkness and Beyond’. In ‘I am just an Ordinary Man’ I have asked myself questions and tried to shed myself of the hypocrisy I had surrounded myself with. My writing is therefore centered around emotions and how hope plays a large part in making our lives more meaningful.

I have not felt this more than what I went through while writing ‘Autumn Leaves’. The intensity reached its peak while I was writing the last story ‘An Enigma’. It was time that I also make a small contribution to such causes that can in someway alleviate the sufferings and enhance the quality of such underprivileged – orphans and destitute.

Taking a cue from my friend Ms. Koshy I have also decided that the proceeds received from the sale of all my books will go to such causes. I know a lot of my friends are also involved actively in philanthropic work and would welcome their suggestions in this matter. I know my limitations as a retired pensioner, but still, I would like to make a difference. I have decided to start with a small contribution (initially not connected in any way with the sale proceeds of my books) towards one such cause, maybe a drop in the ocean, but I am sure that it will give me the satisfaction that I can make a difference through my writing.

A small gesture is all that is needed. Let us in our own ways make a difference.

Thank you for hearing me out.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

AUTUMN LEAVES – Seasons of Life- Excerpts from the book



The primary aim of this post to let people know what to expect and I am sure it will interest them

AUTUMN LEAVES – Seasons of Life
Excerpts from the book

From AUTUMN LEAVES

‘When I was young, no longer a child, I used to listen to my grandfather’s narration of his childhood. How he spent his holidays in that small town where his grandfather lived as a patriarch of a large family. The house was filled with uncles, aunts, and cousins.
He would say that he missed those days spent playing with his cousins on the banks of the river, the temples, the gods and most of all the festivals which looked more as a celebration of life than mere rituals. As he grew old and shifted away, all these were consecrated to the shelves. He had accepted the changing times though reluctantly. There was still a tinge of regret that things were not what they used to be……’

‘I decided that it has to start with understanding myself and for that I needed to go back to where it all started, my parents. And that was what took me to India, to search for the great Banyan tree under whose shade generations had come and gone, the sacred Peepal under which the Buddha attained realization, the burning ghats of Varanasi where one understood the meaning of life and death and the heights of the Himalayas which promised a peep into the unknown.’

From AMORA

‘Everyone goes through the stages of growing up from a child to adolescence to adulthood. At each stage you have experiences which you do carry with you. I have had my share, and for me it has all been a part of growing up. Adolescence is a time of disturbance and psychological confusion. It is when you reach adulthood that you tend to cope with it through the choices and actions you undertake, which again would depend on the environment you have grown up and become used to. Growing up is wiping off the cobwebs of the past and moving on. I have already told you that I have exorcised the ghosts of the past. I have accepted myself for what I am and moved on. I have never shunned or shied away from relationships. If it happens, it happens. I have no expectations and I have found peace,” Amora replied.
…………….
‘He did not believe that life is determined by destiny, He did not believe in Karma. God to him was just a manifestation of the hope that we carry within us. How we live our life is a choice and whether you suffer or survive is just a happenstance. The outcome of our living should translate itself into something meaningful and should be visible, for only then can we correct and march on.’

From AN ENIGMA


‘Once I used to think that the world revolved around me. That’s no longer true for I have now come to accept that there is another world, a world in which you are also an inhabitant. Amol you belong to the other world. I remember telling that you live in a cocoon, but I realize I have also been in one. I now yearn to be the butterfly emerging out to explore the freedom that awaits. Soon Amol, you will also realize that you have to break out from the world you have built around yourself. Real freedom lies in understanding the world as it is.’

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

AUTUMN LEAVES - Seasons of Life A BRIEF INTRODUCTION





AUTUMN LEAVES- Seasons of Life
A Brief Introduction



The advancement in knowledge and the growth in opportunities away from home, contributing to a more independent individual learning to live life on his own terms, though desirable, has led to the splintering of families and in a sense an inevitable reality of being left alone as one aged. ‘Autumn Leaves’ traces one such family’s travel through four generations. Krishnan finds himself sandwiched between his father Vishwam’s and his own children’s generations similar to what his father had gone through; each moving away to accept new values and shedding old ones which had ceased to be relevant, to accommodate the changing world. Despite all this drifting away, the one reality that seems to recur at some stage or the other in life, is the yearning to understand oneself when faced with existential angst. Anuja, Krishnan and Kavita’s daughter, though born and bred up in the US and in all sense, an American, sets out on a journey to understand the roots of her parents and forefathers and in the process arrive at her own self-discovery. The story is a fiction and does not judge, for each generation has to live with its own strengths and weaknesses. But whatever the scenario the one thing that will always persist is the reality of birth and death. Whether it is a biological process or God ordained is a matter of conjecture, and so will it always remain and continue to occupy the human mind. Each one charts his own way and defines his own fulfillment.

Autumn for me, conveys quiet contemplation and a reliving of the past and the seasons gone by, and a period of waiting. Keats’s four lines on Autumn still lie etched in my mind -
                                               : quiet coves
His soul has in its Autumn, when his wings
   He furleth close; contented so to look
On mists in idleness—to let fair things
   Pass by unheeded as a threshold brook.

Adolescence is that time of growing up from a child to adulthood. The onset of puberty brings with it, apart from physical changes in the human body, a need for exploration of one’s sexuality. This is a time when one does not distinguish between love and infatuation. While we always talk about love as everlasting, infatuation is a passing phase which we only realize when we move away. This passing phase for some takes a long time, in the course of which they exist subjecting themselves to procrastination and in the process unfulfilled. Even what we call as love is a fixation that accompanies us as long as we believe it exists. Once it ceases to exist, we are shattered, for there is always an expectation of reciprocity. A sense of betrayal of trust is predominant.

The next two stories ‘Amora’ and ‘Enigma’, deal with infatuation, love, friendship and a search for unifying the divergent forces that exist within us to attain fulfillment.

‘Amora’, I thought was a unique and lovely name. Amora is the closest to ‘Amour’ the French word for love. It was strange but the name’s origin lies in a dream I had, the only thing of which I remember is of a woman who appears therein and when I ask her name, she replies ‘Amora’. I do not know whether my subconscious was at work or whether hidden infatuations had surfaced. But from that single word the story of Aparajit the protagonist developed. Aparajit finds himself bound between two women ‘Amora’ (love) and ‘Maya’ (illusion). Unable to initially accept the truth, he ultimately realizes that relationships are based on understanding and acceptance and that alone is permanent.

Hermann Hesse has been a great influence in my life. Long ago I read Hermann Hesse’s ‘Narziss and Goldmund’ and to this present day it still remains one of my favorite novels. Through all his novels one can sense his attempts at bringing about a balance between the two opposing forces of asceticism and the world so that we reach a better understanding of life and move towards self-realization. In fact, one senses that life is incomplete without experiencing both the states. Like in ‘Narziss and Goldmund’, the theme of duality is dealt with in ‘Siddhartha’, and ‘Demian’ effectively, one of disillusionment and the other of Order versus Chaos.

To say that while writing ‘Enigma’ I have to a large extent been influenced by his writings, will be the truth. The human being is by nature multi-dimensional, but he lives exploring a small part of his potential, frightened of the conflicts that could arise in trying for a synthesis. Real fulfillment can happen only when he is able to do that and for which he has to summon all his courage and brave the consequences that could arise.

The central characters of this story are Atulya, Arundhati, and Amol the narrator. The story is about friendship, love and ultimately fulfillment. To sum up this it would be necessary for me to quote from Hermann Hesse’s ‘Narziss and Goldmund’ –

“We are sun and moon, dear friend; we are sea and land. It is not our purpose to become each other; it is to recognize each other, to learn to see the other and honor him for what he is: each the other's opposite and complement.”

The two characters Atulya and Amol though very different in their approach to life, stay bonded throughout, recognizing and accepting the other as an integral part of each other. Aside from ‘Autumn Leaves’, which is quietly contemplative and recognizes the reality of aging and loneliness, ‘Enigma’ is intense and highlights the strength of relationships, synthesis, and fulfillment.

The stories do not follow a narrative style and I have stuck to what I have been following in my previous books of going back and forth from past to present and back to the past, avoiding the monotony of a straight narrative to keep the reader engrossed.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

PREFACE - AUTUMN LEAVES Three stories



AUTUMN LEAVES
Three stories

PREFACE
I have this habit of rereading what I wrote, be it the posts on my blog or my books trying to relive those moments that inspired me. The very first book ‘I am just An Ordinary Man’ has been of particular significance mainly because it was a journey into the realms of my mind. ‘I am just An Ordinary Man’ was a very personal journey and though laced with allegorical anecdotes and projections into the future, places it in the realm of a fictional autobiography and that is how I like it to be read for I wanted the reader to connect it with his own journey through life. There is this particular passage which I thought it fit to reproduce here –

I watched as the leaves fell from the tree near the balcony at her house, once green then golden yellow, brown and then on the ground. The tree stood barren and stripped; waiting for winter, to be covered white with snow, the rejuvenation in spring and glory in summer to once again the fall. The cycle continues. Isn’t it very similar to the processes we undergo during our lives? Then would winter signify the hibernation we undergo after death to be rejuvenated and born again during spring? 

This was the inspiration for my second book ‘Darkness and Beyond’ exploring the role of ‘Hope’ which takes life forward. The hope of a beyond after the darkness, like spring after winter.  ‘Darkness and Beyond – A Medley of Many Lives’ was a journey into the external world of all those who have gone through the darkness of living and still find hope in living and an authenticity that defines their existence. The book explores nine lives, each in its own way ultimately seeking redemption.

Strangely that very passage from my first book and in a way the first chapter of the second book ‘Roots’ which explored the disintegration of the joint family to a generation which once again goes in search of its roots takes shape in my third book ‘Autumn Leaves’. Though the book derives its title from the first and longest story ‘Autumn Leaves’ which also deals with the reality of aging and loneliness, there are two other stories which talk about infatuation and love and dealing with the duality that exists within us as well as the world outside, in our quest to understand life and arrive at a comprehensive view of life.

I have grown to appreciate and empathize with people, things, and events, which in the past would have just passed me by as I was too preoccupied with all things centered around my own existence. Maybe I have more time now but that alone is not the reason for this empathy. Ever since I started putting my fingers on the keyboard (like the good old pen on paper) I found the words give shape to experiences and people populate the pages of the word document. There are stories out there back in our world which still lie undiscovered waiting to be given form. Though I have an image I do not have a plot when I start off and I write as the story unfolds. This is very much in evidence in my second book ‘Darkness and Beyond – A Medley of Many Lives’ the characters developed as I continued writing and when I look back now I feel happy that I have done justice without resorting to over emphasis and melodrama, making them feel more real. Writing without a plot has made me grow along with the characters and make their experiences my own. It has been more exciting and adventurous this way. I felt like a reader myself waiting for the next piece to fall into place. And this is very much in evidence in ‘Autumn Leaves’

Stephen King in his book ‘On Writing’ says-

Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex, and work.

I have taken the liberty to fall back upon two of my favorite poets John Keats and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and used them in the book for they sum up life and our quest better than anyone I have come across. In fact, I have quoted the entire poem of Keats ‘The Human Seasons’ at the beginning of this book-

Four Seasons fill the measure of the year;
There are four seasons in the mind of man:

These words gave the necessary impetus to finish what I started writing, and Longfellow’s ‘Psalm of Life’ showed what the ultimate quest of each one was directed at –

Lives of great men all remind us
   We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
   Footprints on the sands of time;

It has been a journey of nearly five months living through each and every character in the book. There are no heroes or villains, they are only people, though this is a work of fiction, they are real people and I have endeavored to sketch them as they are. There are no judgments, there is no procrastination: there is only life as it is. Each one, at the same time, trying to reconcile the inherent duality and reach a stage of peace and harmony and being one with the world.

GS.Subbu

Sunday, April 15, 2018

THREE OLD MEN AND A TEA STALL




THREE OLD MEN AND A TEA STALL

If you think that the title sounds very much like Jerome k. Jerome’s escapades of the three men in a Boat or a Bummel, that’s all it does. If you believe that two is company and three is a crowd, you are wrong. Well, that’s what I found out today, especially if it is a company of three old men. I was the youngest of the lot, so I am still young. And when I say a tea stall, it is far removed from the one under whose thatched roof we let loose many a tale of youthful romance, whether it be a figment of one’s own imagination or a true account of a lost love, under the perfect setting of a moonlit wintry night with only the distant barking of a lonely dog seeking out a mate that had run away with  another of the same breed. Sounds very much like the ones under the thatched hut, isn’t it? Only here there were more of them in the thatched hut. Now there were three – old, older and oldest and a tea stall on the pavement at the corner of the road leading to the beach. The old being me and the oldest some sixteen years elder.

Ever since I switched back to walking along the beach in mornings as the Chennai heat in the evening could be like being in a pressure cooker and you breathe in all the pollution let loose during the day. Though once you reached the beach, there would be respite; the familiar faces and the casual waving of hands as we passed one another, occasionally stopping for a moment or two to exchange pleasantries, especially after a break in our daily routine.

As I was on my last lap on the beach road, to an extent exhausted, the sun already shining in its morning glory, there was a gentle tap on my back.

“Hello,” he said, an old man in a yellow T-shirt, dark blue shorts, sports shoes and with a mop of silver hair on his head smiled at me.

This was the first time I saw him. He was a regular and since I was back on a morning walk, I was the stranger as far as he was concerned. Having come from behind he had drawn level and turned sideways to look at me

“I haven’t seen you before,” he said.

“That’s true because I am an evening walker,” I replied.

“It’s always good to come in the morning, the oxygen levels are high and you do not have to contend with the pollution,” he said.

By the time I could reply he had already stopped to talk to another walker. As I waited he turned to me and said –

“Go ahead I’ll join you.”

And so I went to the end of the beach road and waited for him, which he did after few more stoppages on his way. Usually, I do not break my rhythm while walking and would have continued on my way back home. But today I did wait for there was something very alive about his face; fair, with a straight and blemishless nose and eyes that seemed to bore deep into you.

He caught up with me and resumed his talking before I could introduce myself to him. It appeared that since he had already seen me minutes before I was no longer a stranger to him. But to me he still was and so I introduced myself as we continued to walk.

“Oh! I am V. Nice to get to know you. Don’t you feel the more people we meet, the more we understand ourselves?”

I couldn’t agree with him more “Yes, I also like meeting people, though usually, I do not stop during my walks. Today is an exception,” I said. He did not seem to hear me and said

“I usually have tea at the tea stall at the end of this road in the corner. Have you been there before?” he asked.

“Though I have seen it, I have never stopped for I do not have anything till I reach home and had some rest.”

Yes, I have seen that stall, small and usually with a small crowd in front of it. A meeting place for youngsters usually in the evenings. But in the morning, it seemed as if it had been taken over by the elders. There were small plastic stools and a bench on the pavement.

“Join me for a cup of tea, it’s very good you know.”

He ordered for three cups and just as I was wondering why that extra cup he seemed to read my mind and said “Well that is for a friend of mine whom I meet here every day. He should be here anytime now.”

“You know Mr. Subbu, I am eighty-four years old and meeting other people and talking to them keeps me going. Every day I make a new friend and today it’s you. I started with a salary of forty rupees and spent a major portion of my time in Kolkata. I remember the first time I went for an interview, the interviewer a six foot something English man asked me whether I was wearing shorts or a full pant” and he laughed, “I had passed only eighth standard, started as an office boy and graduated to a clerk. I worked in a number of multinational companies with my proficiency as a stenographer. You know the Englishmen knew how to recognize merit and they also taught me discipline. It helped put my life in order. My children went to Corporation schools, did well and finished their education in prestigious colleges like BITs Pilani, St. Josephs, Trichy, and Loyola. They are well placed. You know during those times the bogey of reservation was not so much and merit still mattered.”

As he was talking, his friend joined him and I introduced myself to him. D said he was from Palghat, something I had already guessed from that distinct accent whether they spoke English or Tamil. V was also from that region but sounded more eloquent and kept up the conversation from his end without breaks, I can say a monologue. I did interject sometimes. But at the end of it all, I knew more about him than he about me. But for his ramblings, there were takeaways from that meeting which made me understand the principles on which this man had lived his life, a healthy and mentally stable one with the maturity to accept life with malice to none.

He said “Mr. Subbu there are three things you should remember and principles on which one should approach life – 1) if you lose all your wealth, you can still make up for the losses and regain your material status 2) if your  health is affected you can still go to the doctor and try to set it right 3) but most of all, you should remember that once you lose your character it can never be retrieved.”

In between, I made sure that I rang my wife and told her that I will be delayed. The tea was excellent with a dash of ginger to make it that peppier. V made sure to compliment the tea stall owner which I believe he did every day.

As there was no sign of V slackening I got up and excused myself “I should be leaving now, but thanks for the excellent tea.”

“Don’t say thanks. This is something we pass on to each other: me to you and you to others, the chain should keep on going, only then will goodness will prevail,” he said.

D told me he was seventy years old and before he resorted to a life in retirement, he had been a trade union and had been an MLA in Kerala.  I told him I retired from the bank and now spent my time writing. But throughout the entire conversation when V was on to his monologue D had been mostly silent. Maybe to provide V a sounding board and to enjoy the excellent tea. The tea stall owner I realized would be privy to many such conversations of different motley groups. His job was not to listen but to continue serving tea which he did with great pride and every time a compliment came his way it would make him happy. So, before we left I did just that and he returned the compliment with a smile.

D also got up to go and he accompanied me, till after some distance he turned right and I turned left, each to his own destination.