Thursday, 18 April 2013

Art of Luring

The new flat we recently moved in was not the marvel of the new-age construction, but was a self-contained one far better than the ‘hovel’ we lived in before. My grandma was all smiles. She was excited to see the big, spacious Puja room. She said: ‘Eswar, it looks godly, having an aura of Divinity’. In no time she began arranging things in the Puja room, decking up the walls with framed photographs of many Hindu gods.

That she was not able to feed the crows in the new flat as she did in our old house made grandma a bit sad. A Pucca conservative Hindu woman who steadfastly follows ‘sastras and sampradayas’, she would invariably offer the first scoop of rice to the crows as soon as she finishes her morning Puja. She would partake of her food only after feeding the darkies.

She would always tell me that feeding the crows is like feeding our pithrus [ancestors] whose manes the birds represent.

The kitchen grill in our old house had an open and shut door. Grandma, keeping open the door all through the day, would feed the crows with something or the other: balls of rice, pieces of chapati, idlies and dosas. Never a day went without her feeding the birds which would line up the windowsill when she opened the kitchen window early in the morning.

Grandma grimaced when she could not feed the darkies in the new flat. For, the kitchen grill here was closed with sun mica glasses not having an open and shut door. The kitchen too had only a faint gleam of light reflected from the sun mica glasses.

She was bewildered when my neighbor told her that one had to go to the terrace to feed the crows. The terrace was three stairs away with steep steps and without banister. With arthritis-ridden knees functioning symbolically, there was no way of grandma climbing up the stairs to the terrace daily to feed the crows.

So, it became necessary for me to hire a carpenter to cut and remove the sun mica glasses and put up a makeshift wire mesh across the window grill so that grandma could lift the net and feed the birds whenever she wanted. My euphoria of being a tad smart in opening a new and innovative way for grandma to carry on her daily ritual was only short-lived. For, not even a single crow came to our windowsill, not to speak of their looking at the rice ball grandma offered them with utmost reverence and respect. To her dismay, the crows flew in fleets outside out kitchen window, ignoring her offerings.

The little psychoanalyst in me soon discovered that the crows had no flair for rice and dhal since they were getting mounds of them from every household in our area. I then brought into action all my tactical and Machiavellian skills; decided to offer the crows some crumbs to lure them to our kitchen windowsill. Of course, I did it on the sly since grandma never liked to pamper the birds with costly food stuffs other than rice balls.

Viola! The moment I placed a piece of a cake on the sill, I saw a throng of crows flying down to our kitchen window and picking up my new offerings with a flourish. Grandma was stunned when she saw a troupe of crows lining up on the window sill. She couldn’t believe her eyes, but was happy as if she got manna from heaven.

However, the darkies became rogues and refused to take the rice ball offered by grandma after they had tasted crumbs. ‘Easwar, why don’t they take rice balls?’ grandma muttered mawkishly. ‘Look, grandma’, I tried to console her. ‘They’re always munching on rice and dhal. Maybe, they like a variety of food. Why don’t you give them biscuits or bread?’ ‘No … no,’ she retorted. ‘It’s against Manu Dharma. Crows are our ancestors. We should give them the same ‘padayal’ [offering] which we offer to our gods.’

Soon, the responsibility of feeding the darkies fell on me as grandma was disgusted with them. Fortunately, the dark winged creatures and I became friends. They now started behaving themselves and feeding on the rice balls I offered them. Grandma became curious.’ Why, Easwar? Why they don’t like feeding from my hands? I do offer them the same rice ball as you do. And what magic you do to make them behave?’ she quipped and went away.

There is no secret or magic behind what I did. My friends and I are only mundane creatures. Since we don’t know anything about Manu Dharma, we oblige each other—they come to the window frame hearing the Puja bell and on my part I offer them rice balls coated with crumbs or jaggery. It’s a case of ‘you scratch my back and I do yours’ … a sort of win-win game.

My friends, I hope, would never betray me. For I always saw them cleaning up the rice balls without leaving any trace of their feed being mixed with extraneous things. Nowadays, they are more adept at hoodwinking grandma than me, their master.

Image courtesy: Google

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Back to Square One

I had been, quite often, the victim of defaulted and heated Auto Fare meters. For taking me from the Central Railway Station to Egmore Railway Station, the distance being less than 2 km, an auto-driver had once fleeced me for a hefty amount. I was then a novice to the metro. To justify the exorbitant rate, the driver went through remote streets and an alley, made several ‘U’ turns and detours before dropping me at my destination.

Impolite and rude behavior, demanding unreasonable fares from the gullible passengers even for short trips, badmouthing them in the metro slang during journeys and above all abject violation of traffic rules were always synonymous with some rogue auto-drivers. I don’t, however, imply that all auto-drivers are unscrupulous, since the majority do their job in a professional and honest way.

But that was a month ago. Well, a lot of water has flowed into the Cooum River [the urban river of Chennai is now one of the dirtiest water bodies in the metro] since then. The spectacle I witnessed yesterday while travelling in an auto left me agape with wonder and bewilderment. Amazingly, the vehicle went along swiftly, but smoothly as the driver, conscious of my comfort, drove his auto carefully, avoiding the speed bumps, potholes, and heaps of sand and gravel placed at the sides of the road.

I was surprised when I glanced around my seat. It was clean and tidy. I got a whiff of scent. The driver must have sprayed some perfume, I thought. Hal-a-dozen water bottles were stuffed in a makeshift rack behind the passenger seat. The FM radio was on, but it wasn’t blaring as it used to be in the majority of the other autos. It played softly; pleasing to the ear. Hanging from the door frame was a pouch full of complimentary tissue paper.

‘Feeling thirsty, sir? Like to have tender coconut or coffee? I’ll take you to a good kiosk on the way.’ The driver spoke good English. He smiled too. I didn’t answer him since I was in a trance unable to piece together the reasons behind the sudden change in the machine and the man.

‘Who brought such a perceptible metamorphosis in these ‘moving tyrannies? When did this phenomenon take place? Is it a reality or am I dreaming?’ Volley of thoughts swarmed me as I was sitting speechless. ‘Your destination, sir’, the driver stirred me out of my dream. I got down; he checked the meter and told me the fare. It was only twenty rupees. I stood dumb-stuck thinking how many times I had paid 80 rupees to drivers for the same distance.

After settling the fare, I still stood unmoved, staring at the driver and thinking how anacondas could suddenly become earth worms. Reading my mind, the driver pitched in again. ‘I know what’re you thinking, sir.’ He said with an ingratiating smile. ‘Yes, we’re now a changed lot as we had undergone a training programme. A Good Samaritan college took some of us to their campus recently and taught us spoken English and etiquette; we were also imparted how to interact pleasantly with the passengers. A week’s training there completely changed us from quarreling and fleecing fellows to persons of exemplary manners. Before long, you’ll see all the auto-wallahs a refined and reformed lot.’

I felt extremely happy and shook hands with the driver. ‘Your makeover is the 8th wonder of the world. My thanks to those persons who fine tuned you? Every auto driver needs to realize that he is part of a service industry and any form of misbehavior will reflect badly on the image of his tribe." I commented, moving away from the driver.

Dissipated was my enthusiasm when I learned, after a few days, that all the fine tuned auto-wallahs were compelled to become autocrats once again. The Vetal [Betaal] has since disentangled himself from the King Vikrama’s back and flew back to the tree. Campus training for a host of auto drivers was stopped abruptly due to the intervention of one or two Auto Unions. They scuttled such a praiseworthy project assuming that people who were used to ride those ‘civilized’ autos would avoid travelling in other autos which, by all means, would trigger a down-slide in their daily collections.

It’s a piquant situation and prompted me to think about what China commented about the functioning of Indian democracy: “Why does India’s democracy fail to bring more effective rule of law but instead allows the worst facets of traditions to flourish and thus severely restricts India’s modernization to this day. This is a question that deserves thought from the Indian elite.”

Image courtesy: Google.