Monday, August 29, 2016

What's in a name?

I never really did bother about names and, if I ever had stopped to think about it, I would probably have shrugged my shoulders and said,"What's in a name?" THAT, though, was more in my childhood than later in life.

You know, India is sort of surprising. AND it was even more so in the past. You had TV news-people who mastered the enunciation of 'Slobodan Zivojinovic', but stumbled and stuttered over 'Palaniappan Chidambaram' - so much so you would have thought that the former was from India and the latter from the outer reaches near the North Pole. But, then, sitting comfortably in the south of India, it was all as remote as though it was happening in Outer Mongolia, since Doordarshan was in Delhi, which was 'door ast' - 'far', for those who do not recognize the allusion.

When I shifted to Delhi, though, the fun started. Not immediately but around the time when the Election Ids got issued. Since the chaps came around verbally asking for information and filling the forms up themselves, the fun was not really apparent till I got the Election ID. In Hindi, the name was not bad - except for the fact that the North firmly believes that an 'an' does not belong at the end of the name and so, I was 'Chandrasekar Suresh' and not 'Chandrasekaran Suresh'. THAT, though, did I tell you, was only in Hindi. In English it got rendered as 'Chandarshakhar' AND THAT it remains there, since I did not have a year or two at my disposal to educate the concerned officials about how to spell my name.

One would really think that we people in the south, who have no surnames - only the names of our native town/village and/or our father's name as initials - are a small obscure tribe numbering in the hundreds at best, going by the fact that no government forms ever bother to specify exactly how this is to be entered in any uniform manner. So, with the expand initials in one, name and surname in another and so on and so forth, my name keeps changing from Suresh Chandrasekaran and Chandrasekaran Suresh, when it does not get a thorough make-over like Chandarshakar Suresh.

Also, there is this strange issue. I daresay that people who get knighted are far lesser than the population of people with my style of naming and, yet, it is known that they get called 'Alec' by friends and 'Sir Alec' by others - and never 'Sir Baldwin' or whatever their surname happens to be. The same, though, I am unable to drive into the minds of the same people - that I am 'Suresh' to friends and 'Mr. Suresh' to others and NOT 'Mr. Chandrasekaran', which would be my dad, who had enough people troubling him to not want my lot adding itself to the mix. Now, of course, I have a chance of things changing for the better. I'm sure P.V. Sindhu will not favor being addressed as Ms. Pusarla and will start a change of attitude. (Though, to be sure, even C.V. Raman did not manage it. Even when knighted, he was still Sir C.V. Raman and not Sir. Raman)

Now, I need to tackle a new set of issues. When I was leaving Delhi for Bangalore, my passport was near-expiry and I had it renewed in a hurry. Having stayed within the shores of this country, I have had hardly any reason to look at it till now, when it needs renewal. AND, presto, I find that, though the passport office was RENEWING a passport in the name of 'Chandrasekaran Suresh' and my form was filled in the same way, the passport I now hold is for 'Chandra Sekaran Suresh'. No doubt they took pity on my being deprived of a middle name and decided to gift me one but...

I want to reclaim my name. I find, though, that since the passport HAS been the base for my PAN Card - they too have granted me a middle name, gratis, despite, yes, my filling the form WITHOUT adding that superfluous spacebar between Chandra and Sekaran. Unfortunately, I had opted for the card with a mere 'C. Suresh' on it and, thus, I never knew that this had happened till I tried to align my Aadhar ID - which had the name the way it should be - with my PAN Card.

There I go - now I need to reclaim my name. With a choice between 'Chandarshakhar' and 'Chandra Sekaran' in two ids and with only the latest one - Aadhar - having it the right way, I do not know how it is all going to end.

So, soon you may all have to revise your opinion of what my name is...and so may I!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Do it well?

Seivana thirunda sei - Tamil Proverb

Translation(sort of) : What is worth doing is worth doing well

I would love it if, just once, there is one of these proverbs that will support me. But, no, everything that the wise have said always seems to run counter to what I want to do.

When I first heard this one about doing anything well, I was SO ecstatic. So, the time when my mom wanted to send me off to buy vegetables, I happily quoted this one at her and said,"I want to live by this proverb and since I cannot do this well, I'd rather not do it."

I thought I had the winning argument since, after all, the last time I bought some tomatoes, she took one look at them and said,"So, you paid him money and picked up all the rotten tomatoes that he  had thrown into the garbage?" Sounds more caustic in Tamil, actually - Avan vendaamnu vitterijadhai kaasu kudutthu porukkindu vandiyakkum? (Something, I bet, that SHE was told by HER mother in her day!).

So, did I win my point? NO WAY. All she told me was that it only meant that I had to do things to the best of MY ability and NOT necessarily in the best manner possible. So, I still had to go out to buy the veggies with further advice ringing in my ears - "It ALSO means that you learn from your mistakes and keep improving, not that you can always scrounge around in the garbage for vegetables, after paying the shopkeeper for the privilege." Parents!! They always find a logic to make you do what you do not want to do!

After that signal failure of the proverb to help me in any manner, you would have thought that I would abandon the advice it gave as being totally useless. I suppose I would have but some things seem to stick in my mind, as though they were coated in Fevicol, whether I like it or not.

So, yes, comes my working days, my boss used to be dancing around impatiently saying, "It is not really necessary for you to work out everything to 20 decimal accuracy. I need to give this in half-an-hour or be roasted over a low flame for days", while I was meticulously checking why the figure on the left column was 2874.99999999999, while the one on the right was 2875. To this day I think he blames me for every single white hair he has on his head though, to my knowledge, he has never yet featured in a barbecue as the center-piece because of me.

Over the years, I realized what my problem was - why I had to do as good a job as I could always. You see, the world has two types of people - those whose job is to DO and those who job is to tell how others have done. You need to get into the latter band-wagon as soon as possible - then YOU can make a nice living complaining about others not doing their jobs well and stop bothering about whether you are doing yours well. If, though, you get stuck in the first category...

It was much later in life that I did manage to reach the level that I always aspired for, from the time I heard this proverb. Since I can do NOTHING well, I DO!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Olympian regrets

Goal of Team India at the Olympics: Rio jao. Selfies lo. Khaali haat wapas aao. What a waste of money and opportunity.

I know that there is this almost insane interest in gaining publicity at any cost. There is this intense fascination with getting something to go viral on social media that borders on obsession. What I had not realized is the lengths to which some people can go in pursuit of this obsession; the sheer callousness with which they can hurt and calumniate others for what they see as their place in the sun. So, yes, this tweet above was an education.

To be sure, there are apologists; people who see this as a bitter exposition of the truth of Indian Athletics. I cannot see this as being so, either. If it had been a statement on how India has failed to produce world-class athletes, it would have been a commentary on our own sporting infrastructure. Had it been a criticism of the ability - physical or mental or both - of our athletes, one could see it as a possible conclusion from their performances, bitterly though we may dispute those conclusions or offer the lack of sporting facilities as the reason.

But, no, it was a comment on their dedication to their sports - not merely of one or two but a sweeping character assassination of ALL the athletes in 'Team India'. With no reason for that conclusion - no stories of late-night partying the day before the competitions or athletes neglecting their practice routines or whatever - the statement almost borders on slander. To seek cheap publicity based on such a vicious statement, and one can see no other purpose served by such sweeping assertions,...suffice to say that I cannot think of leading a joyful life with a sewer for a mind.

Decency in public life is becoming a thing of the past and in no small part thanks to people like this who are more intent on coining a phrase than in checking for the legitimacy and veracity of what they say. Being controversial cannot be an end in itself; controversy always causes hurt and, when you cause hurt, it better be for a cause, else you are no more than a sadist. And when the cause is no more than publicity-seeking...

One thing people like this forget - no-one is a loser, who puts in his best efforts, no matter what the result of his efforts are. As a country, yes, India should be able to identify and hone sporting talent that can vie with the best in the world. The lack of a sporting culture and sporting infrastructure in the country does make India a loser in the arena of sports, because as a country we certainly are not putting in our best efforts.

At the individual level, each athlete who performs the best that he or she can, given the circumstances - and most, if not all, of them do - IS a winner and should be respected as such, even if his or her best  efforts on the day is not enough to win. THAT is something which would be clear to any self-respecting person.

A big part of what ails this country is precisely this. Someone, regardless of the odds against, attempts something. If he/she succeeds we are ALL too willing to take the success as our success and revel in it. If he/she fails is not merely his/her fault but he/she is a duplicitous person out to cheat us of our tax money. When we have done scant little to support the success, we really have no right to revel in it; AND, when we not only do scant little but also revel in successes, then it is only right that WE accept the responsibility for the failures and do not foist it on them.

It is only when we recognize how little we ARE doing to foster success that we will develop a sporting culture in this country. As long as we rest content in blaming those who try for not succeeding, nothing can change...for the better. As for reveling in the successes - be it a Sania Mirza or a Sundar Picchai - time enough to be doing it when we AND they see the environment of this country as the prime reason FOR the success. People can succeed 'despite'; it is when they succeed 'because of' that the country has reason to feel a participant in the success.

But as long as the self-proclaimed 'opinion leaders' of this country will prefer to shoot the messenger for the message, there can be no hope. It is ironic that precisely those, who are letting the country down, are the ones who are most vociferous in complaining about others doing so.

But, then, THAT is the nature of humanity. People who love holding the mirror up to other people seldom have the honesty to look in it themselves!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

This day and that day

It IS getting a bit monotonous, yes, but here I am, again, not being able to understand something that the whole world takes for granted. Makes you wonder about exactly what was distracting God around the time He made me, considering the number of things he seems to have left out in the process.

It is not like I cannot understand these 'days' thing at all, you know. For one, I DO know the importance of my Birthday...or I did. A birthday was when I got one of the two pairs of new 'color' clothing for the year, was allowed to swank around in those 'color' dresses instead of the school uniform (Which accounts for why I refused for a loong time to believe that grey and white were colors - since THEY were the uniform and, thus, NOT a 'color' dress) and could be confident that for this one day my school-mates would go slow on baiting me. I think even this understanding is dated; when you get new clothes every other hour a birthday cannot be important for THAT purpose at any rate, which is probably why theme parties and the likes have started thriving.

I even can understand how Valentine's day thrives. I mean, when people in love will moon over and celebrate "The monthiversary of your first wearing that pink salwar after we met" and "The day of the week when you wear pink lipstick", it is easy to see how one more day of the year can add to the merriment. It is only later that you get this "How many dates am I expected to remember?" thing when reminded of birthdays and wedding anniversaries.

Take this 'Mother's day', for example. I always thought that it was the day children visited their mother in the old age homes, where they were conveniently tucked away and taken out to be viewed on this day. That comes of having my mother stay with me and remembering her the way she was - she would be happy to be wished on her birthday, her anniversary and things like that - dates that meant something personal to her. If I had gone wishing her 'Mother's day', she would probably have blinked uncomprehendingly and asked 'Whose mother's day?" But, then, maybe it does come in handy for all those with a bad memory for dates - easier by far to wish mothers on 'Mother's day', since the entire social media would be reminding you of it. To remember HER birthday, though...

THAT, of course, explains the importance of 'Friendship day'. Imagine trying to remember a host of individual dates of personal importance for innumerable friends. Especially where they are not close enough for you to bother to do so. Yeah, true, that Facebook does make it convenient for you to do so (unlike mothers, especially of my mothers' generation, who are not even on Facebook) but it is still such a chore. Easier to wish them all on Friendship day and, if you can also put in the 'You know who you are', it also neatly avoids the problem of having to list them.

These days are so useful, after all. Avoids much wear and tear on the memory. Pity that I cannot even remember these days. Maybe someone will come up with a 'Humanity Day' or some such and I can be done with it by remembering only one day. AND if Facebook can conveniently remind me...

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Great Kashmir Lakes Trek - III

This was the first time I was dropping out of a trek halfway. But, then, this was the first time I was about to do a High Altitude (OR any altitude) horse ride for any length of time. So, it was in any case a new experience for me - though I would miss not being to see those lovely lakes. (The pics in this post are the places I missed, and the one below is where Vinod misses me since I'd have been the only guy who would have given him company in taking dips in freezing waters)

To take the ponies for the way back, I had to cross the boulders, first. AND falling thrice in the process of doing so, thanks to that proud, unbending knee, underscored the wisdom of my having decided to drop off the trek (or I would probably have dropped off some abyss and, no, THAT would not be good riddance!)

I had this vision of my sitting on the mule in a trance, drinking in all the beauties of nature that huffing and puffing up and down would not allow me to do, while the mule huffed and puffed in my stead. THAT, apparently, was not how a mule ride would be. Shaukat, the guide who was along for our ride, kept exhorting me to keep my balance, lean backward when the mule was descending and lean forward when it was ascending. I nodded religiously, held grimly on to the pommel of the saddle and did exactly the reverse. The mule would probably had fared better if I had not got all that advice - I would have at least sat rigidly upright, praying to all the gods I remembered to keep me seated on the mule, instead of slipping off gracefully.

The mule, on its part, had its own problems. The poor thing kept looking back at me hoping that I would get off. It looked so piteously that I was reduced to telling the poor thing, "Sorry! If it were not for this leg..." It, of course, was not possible for me to shed some 20kg of weight on the instant and the sheer agony in its eyes made me cast apprehensive glances behind me to see if the SPCA was gunning for me.

I did not know how good this one was till we stopped off near the muleteer's current residence to change mules. (Evidence of the friendliness of the Kashmiris is the fact that we were given a glass of goat milk, each, which goat's milk.) The next mule that I sat on reared high as my weight settled on it that I was thrown forward and, literally, bumped noses with it. THAT, though, was not the start of a beautiful friendship.

This one had its own ideas of travel. For it, the shortest distance between two points was a sine curve. The problem, though, was that I did not know whether its idea of the two points were the same as mine; whether it was heading where I wanted to head. The sight of a few resting mules would make it run towards them to partake in their leisure. At times, it would decide that going downhill, with my weight on it, would be easier, and head off the track. AND, then, there were those instances when it would run uphill AND why it should have thought THAT would ease its burden only it could know. Keeping your balance on the mule involved turning your body to where the nose of the mule points at any point in time but it would have taken a corkscrew revolving at high speed to keep up with the twists and turns of THIS mule. I was holding on so grimly and so tightly to the pommel of the saddle that I developed blisters in the hand.

THOSE were the only blisters I could SHOW, though. Any ideas that riding a mule was fun were blasted out of my hide, that day. The problem is that you get scant sympathy at the end of the day. Any attempt at showing off your blisters and wounds would have seemed like an invitation to 'unnatural sex'.

Suffice to say that by the time we hit Sonamarg, I was only too glad to get off that mule and the mule, rather impolitely I thought, pranced around in joy to exhibit ITS gladness at being rid of me.

Dushyant of India Hikes suggested that we stay at their place but with the knee the way it was I could not countenance the idea of an Eastern Toilet. With the Amarnath tourists backed up due to curfews across Kashmir, hotels were full and we ended up at Rah Villas.

The stay would have been very pleasant and enjoyable, with excellent food and a Coimbatore-born manager to talk to, but for the fact that the situation in Kashmir seemed so grim that we were wondering about whether we would get across to Srinagar and back to our homes. Rumors of Amarnath yatris being pelted and rumors of the  abnormal killing of a driver, who seemed to have disappeared after ferrying tourists, from Gund were not very heartening.

We stayed put, instead of advancing our journey, and Dushyant ferried us to Naranag where we would join the rest of our group. Four kilometers from Naranag, the road was blocked by locals and further travel by vehicle proscribed. After a wait, we decided to walk it. Just as my leg, which had been relatively all right since only THAT morning, started twinging again some vehicles from another route came along and gave us a lift to Naranag.

The rest of the group seemed to have had a gala time on their trek. The return to Srinagar, though, seemed fraught with risk. Eventually, we left Naranag in the middle of the night and hit Srinagar at about 1.30 AM. The rest of the crowd opted not to risk the possibility of a curfew making them miss their flights and headed straight to the Airport. We took the India Hikes rooms, snoozed till 5 AM and hit the Airport by 6 AM for our afternoon flights. (Yeah! We ARE foolhardy but not ALL that foolhardy!)

The Airport was like a fairground; passengers all over the place with luggage, vendors selling tea and snacks, the works. About the only things missing was jugglers, merry-go-rounds and balloon-vendors. We hung around till 11.30 AM, when we were allowed to check-in. The rest, as they say, is anti-climax.

Apart from the regrets of not being able to visit those lovely lakes, there is also the regret of not really bonding with the guys from Mumbai, Pune and Delhi. They seemed such a great crowd and it was such a pity that I could not spend those extra five days that would have made friends out of relative strangers. But, then, c'est la vie. Maybe I shall bump into them some time in the future.

Meanwhile, another trek over - even if not completed. AND, right now, the ONE unforgettable being that I added to my list of acquaintances is THAT mule!

Part I

Pics: Rammohan and Neha