Thursday, April 24, 2014

The gradual fade

It's been close to ten years (nine to be exact) since I have been in the United States.  A lot of things have happened in the given timeframe.  Having never stayed outside home, I graduated from a tense, uptight character to a person with a relaxed and confident demeanor.  Staying in another country changes you completely.

At home, I have missed almost every possible festival, several marriages of friends and relatives, the big and small celebrations, walking down the streets of Malleswaram as and when I like, taking a stroll to the railway station and watching the trains pass by, and the little things of significance.  And sadly, I also missed the deaths of my paternal grandmother, maternal grandfather and my maternal uncle.  My maternal grandmother passed away during my Engineering.  These are people who cared for me.  These are people who never doubted even for a minute that I would be anything but successful in life.

I am the eldest in both the families.  So, my grandparents always had a soft corner for me.  My paternal grandmother, whom I addressed as Thangam paati (grandmother in Tamil), always took my side when my parents were ready to address my misdeeds.  The ancestral home in our village was always filled with visitors, and not once have I seen anybody walk out of the house without being fed.  There was no question of even being asked the question, "Will you dine at our place?".  It was just understood that if somebody came home, they were treated to a hearty meal.

My maternal grandmother, Seeta Paati, was another amazing individual, and I am fortunate to have shared some of the best moments in life with her.  In our village ancestral home, all the kids used to sit around her during dinner time, and she would serve us food (also called as nila sor) accompanied by a mythological narration.

Grandparents and grandchildren have a special relationship.  It is a natural bonding process that goes beyond anything that can be explained.  It's such a magical feeling to have someone care for you unconditionally.  For parents, it comes naturally, and for grandparents, it comes naturally and in abundance.  Grandparents never doubted you.  For them, you were always right.

Last year, during my India trip, my maternal uncle passed away.  He was a man of small requirements.  He led a frugal life.  He lived in dire difficulties.  Even when he had enough money, the difficult circumstances he faced before always reminded him to be more than wise with money.  He always advised me to be careful with money.  He used to get annoyed and upset with anybody, let alone his children, spending more than what was required.

Anyway, this week, my parents called me and said that a close relative passed away.  He was in the eighties.

"Dei, Visaalam mama passed away yesterday", she said.

He was called as Visaalam mama, because his wife was named Visaalam.  So, somehow, we tagged mami's name to mama.  Mami passed away last year.  Both of them were fantastic well wishers of our family.  Visaalam mama was an engineer in his days.  He also developed keen interest in the Vedas and Astrology.  My parents always consulted him when they needed to pick a date for auspicious activities at home.

Even, when I had to book my Visa date for the very first time before I was to embark to the United States, we went to him.

He checked his almanac, did a few calculations and told us, "Book your date on the 20th of June.  It is a very auspicious day."

I don't know the extent of auspiciousness in the date.  All that I know even today is he had my best interests in his heart.  That was more than enough to inspire confidence in me.

He was very interested in Sanskrit.  He used to advise me about the little nuances of doing the Sandhyavandanam right.  Once at home, I was performing Sandhyavandanam with a dhoti and in my laziness, failed to remove my shirt and drape the Angavastram around my upper part of the body.  He waited till I finished, and made sure that I never repeat the mistake again, and explained why it was not the right way to perform my daily prayers.

I don't know how it makes a difference, but ever since, I have followed his advice.

I have missed a lot of things in the last few years, but nothing has caused me more grief than seeing people go.  People literally fade from your life.  People who have seen you rise from nothing simply vanish one fine day.  And then, life goes on as it's meant to.

After my wedding, I was talking to my father.  I was looking at the wedding album.  I told him how different the album was compared to my parents' time.  The texture, the color and the finish were completely different.  It was rich and attractive.

He smiled at me.  With a lot of pain and agony in his voice, he told me this.

"Praveen, you know what.  I never open our wedding album to see the wedding photos."

I was curious, "Why father?"

"When you look at the group photo and see all the people standing around you, you will notice that these people will gradually fade one after the other."

He concluded.

"After many years, it feels like your mother and I are standing alone in some of those photos."

Monday, April 14, 2014

The general elections

Nothing grips a nation like general elections.  There is constant buzz and chatter all around, with each person supporting a leader of his choice; arguments and tensions rising galore.  While in school, I used to spend my summer holidays in Tamil Nadu.  In front of our village home was a huge maidaan, where leaders of all parties would deliver their speeches (of course on different days).  So, I have had the chance to see Jayalalitha, Karunanidhi, Vaiko, Ramadoss and the others from close quarters.  I wouldn't understand most of the things they said, but the crowd and chatter before the speech was riveting.

Anyway, I always wanted to vote during the elections.  And you weren't able to do that until the age of 18.  But, by the time, I got myself registered as a voter and all the verifications were done, another election went by.  So, in 2004, I was very much excited when I was cleared to vote.  I was very clear that I wanted to support one particular party in the state, and the polar opposite at the center.  So, I made sure I knew the difference between Legislative Assembly and Lok Sabha ballots.  Even as I entered my school to vote, I asked the people, "Are you sure this is Assembly ballot?"  It was like me going to a restaurant and double checking if I was eating vegetarian food - "No meat right?"

I exercised my vote, and came out.  A few days later, I was chatting with a non-friend (this guy is definitely not my friend, but if I meet him at a public place, I would smile at him) who was studying at the IISc.

"Did you vote?", I asked him.

He said, "Yes, of course."

"I want Vajpayee at the Center and SM Krishna at the state level", he said.

And then, he proceeded.

"That's the reason why I voted for BJP at the assembly and Congress at the Center."

"What a fool!", I muttered to myself.

Here was a guy, who was an engineering graduate, studying at the IISc, and not knowing the difference between Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.  I wondered how the population who knew neither to read or write knew what they were doing.

But, now, as I follow the elections, I can see the trend emerge.  People know very clearly who to vote for at the center and at the state.  The difference is clearly conspicuous on the day of the results.  In 2009, it was clear.

I still remember the 2004 elections.  Maybe it was the first time I voted or maybe the results were like that.  The BJP were the favorites to win the poll, but somehow, thanks to the horribly executed "India Shining" campaign, were routed in the elections.  The anti-incumbency factor had left a bad taste with the people.

The Congress had emerged as the single largest party.  I was sitting at home not even wanting to watch TV.  It's not that I hate the Congress, but I couldn't imagine an Italian born ruling the country.  Call me what you want, I wanted somebody from India to be the Prime Minister of the country.

My father came back from work earlier than usual.  He told me, "I just cannot concentrate on work.  I am so terribly disappointed."

I went out to meet my colony friends.  Everybody had a look of disappointment.  Clearly, nothing else was a matter of conversation.  Nobody at home even felt like eating anything that day.

I wondered if everyone was so disappointed, how did the Congress ever manage to win the elections.  Then, I remembered people like my non-friend, who did not know what he was voting for.

It was not until Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, the then President of India, prevented Sonia Gandhi from accepting the Prime Minstership position that the whole nation felt relieved.  It was hailed as a sacrifice, but it didn't matter what it was.