Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A fading icon

The high pitched petulant tone of the calling bell sounded like an old soiled audio tape. Three youngsters were waiting in the verandah when she opened the door. Though couple of them seemed modern, it was the dhoti clad man who energetically greeted her with folded hands.

Yes?” Gloria Fernandez sounded impatient.

Jeffrey’s friend referred us. Though we do not know Jeffrey by person, Emil told us that we can meet him. Is Jeffrey around?

He has not come back from church. Can you please wait? He will come now. What’s the matter?”

Heard that there is a car for sale here. We came to check that up.” The dhoti clad youngster directly jumped into the matter.

Oh Christ! Although she was expecting it to happen sometime, this arrived as a shock for her. She wanted to hide somewhere. She should have guessed it, when they were looking around to spot the car shed. She had kept quiet whenever Jeffrey asked about it, and finally he took her hush as consent.

Please sit. Jeffrey will reach anytime.” She wanted Jeffrey to handle this mess.

The youngsters seemed to be perturbed by Gloria’s abrupt bout of depression. “Will things go fine?” One of them whispered to Ravi, the dhoti clad man. Their hopes were on his business flair.

Gloria felt that the folks waiting in the verandah had come to steal that final physical presence of love. She knew that the bungalow also will be lost soon. But then, the car had a lively charisma around it. When she looked through her window, she never observed the flat tires or the tons of dust that engulfed the car – All that came to her mind were those flashbacks of memories rushing through the narrow bridge of tears.

Fifteen years back, as they marched with swift vigor in business, Melvin Fernandez waved his magic surprise wand at her in the form of a black ambassador car – A souvenir to her on their fifteenth wedding anniversary. As she gazed at that car, she could see all those reminiscences about Melvin unravel. She could remember that day when a ten year old Jeffrey jumped around with bliss, and the way they danced after sharing some wine. All of it seemed like yesterday. The progress in export business came rapidly for Melvin. From that small rented house to the bungalow with a garden and pool. Soon the car arrived. Even when the business grew to sky, Melvin never thought of changing the car.

From then on – To church during Sundays, To beaches on evenings, To the shopping centers of the town, To different ceremonies, To hill stations whenever he got a couple of free days…. those pictures floated as bubbles in front of her. In all those images, she saw Melvin behind the steering with a Ray Ban glass, and to his left was Mrs. Gloria Fernandez. That car has been an inseparable part in their life for fifteen years. Even if it was almost pressed to the ground for the last six months, she was sure that the interiors will still have that fragrance of State Express and Brut.

Her son Jeffrey, who is planning to drift to Australia, will never comprehend this. After the unforeseen demise of Melvin, he viewed the car as a white elephant. “Should it corrode in this sultry climate, with no one even starting it? Why is mother so stubborn? Anyway we are going to leave this place for our ‘home’ climate. If you just keep acting out of emotion, the car will be of no use for anyone.” This is his standard argument. He cannot understand…..His age is like that.

Gloria could hear the sound of Jeffrey’s bike at the gate. “Hello! I am Jeffrey. You…?” She could hear Jeffrey speaking.

Emil referred us to you. I am Ravi, and these are Soman & Sasi. We came to see the car

Oh! Please come. Did you see the car? Please note that we have already paid this years tax and insurance. No one has touched the car except Daddy. ‘Single Owner’, in its literal meaning. There will be some dust since no one has touched the car for past six months. No Bargaining. I should get 65.” Jeffrey directly got into the substance.

Everyone walked to the shed with Jeffrey. Ravi started to inspect the vehicle in detail – He energetically ran around the car, looked under it and started knocking at different places to check the strength. Watching him looking at the car from diverse angles, Gloria felt that he would be an ideal person to choose animals for slaughter. She was watching them through the window. She saw Jeffrey coming inside to take the key. Gloria took the key in her hand and pressed her face into a pillow as she wept. The keychain was made of brass with a shape of Lord Ganesha, and it had the words G F Fisheries embedded on it. (G F for Gloria Fernandez). Melvin was very obstinate about having Lord Ganesha as the logo, since he believed that it would give his business a good prosperous start. He ignored the teasing words from Gloria, and told “An out and right Christian, and an out and right businessman”.

Mom, Where is the key?” Jeffery came to her after searching the desk.

Why are you crying, Mom? Anyway we will be parting this place soon. So what’s the sanctity in keeping that piece of junk? Please give the key.” He grabbed the key forcefully from Gloria’s hand.

Yes. He will not understand. For him, it is just another junk piece of metal. He has been like this all the while. All that Jeffrey learnt from his father was his business mind. He never absorbed the values of Melvin - who made it a point to have some light moments that he enjoyed with his family in spite of the busy working hours, who put a heavy price tag to human emotions. When Jeffrey learnt that Australians allow Anglo Indians to migrate, he started running around to abscond from the place where he lived all the while. ‘Home country’, it seems! How can he even consider leaving these local boulevards through which the nomadic guitar tones linger, the gorgeous Chinese nets, the Gulmohar flowers and their sleepy fragrance, the melody of the lake and sea, the languid and loving people, the garden with chrysanthemum, begonia and anthurium in its borders and this bungalow that has Melvin’s breath in every corner? Yes. Jeffrey will never understand. He has always been like this.

Mom, the deal is fixed. 62000 Rs. Not a good profit, but not a loss either. They will come within two hours, with a good battery

Jeffrey, you may go to the tea shop and get them something to drink. I am going to Elizabeth’s house. I will come back in the evening. Anyway, I can’t bear the scene.”

Gloria took the umbrella and opened the door. She burst into tears as she approached the car for one last time. As she kissed the steering wheel, she could smell Melvin’s cologne in her nose. She wiped her face and stared on, till she felt like leaving. Is Melvin opening the front door of the car and coming out? She could hear the sound of his shoes. She could feel his presence near her. Gloria did not know how long she stood there.

Mom, have you not gone yet?” Jeffrey’s question brought her back to the world. Gloria opened the umbrella and slowly started walking - to those memories rushing through her mind, to the air that smelled cologne, to the frames of life frozen with Melvin's picture.

- Translation of a short story written in Malayalam by my Achan (which was published in a magazine). Today, it’s 5 years since he left us.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Lets confess - We are bloody bureaucrats

First Rank in Kerala State SSLC
First Rank in University during Plus Two
Tenth Rank in IIT Entrance Examination
Offered Scholarship in prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Rejected it for his moral obligation to the nation.
First Rank in IAS Entrance Examination
First Rank in IAS Training Institute

Most of us know whom we are talking about. It’s about one extra ordinary person who remains stubborn and refuses to budge to the corrupted bureaucracy bludgeoning over him. He created mayhem among ‘officials’ when he widened the sides of a very congested and busy road in Thrissur town. He practically slapped on the face of a local minister who wanted to turn his hospital to a medical college without any mandated infrastructure. There are many more incidents to be quoted through, but you know where I am getting to. This stubborn gentleman who had made/is still making a huge impact among the youngsters in Kerala is none other than Mr. Raju Narayanaswamy. He was transferred a million times and insulted another zillion times by our government, before he escaped as he took leave for serving the UN who were excited to get a person like Mr. Swamy on their rolls.

Time passed by, and a new government under VS - the very last comrade of a generation of inspiring ‘genuine’ Marxist leaders, came into power. Things started to look rosy when VS personally handpicked Swamy, Suresh Kumar and Rishi Raj Singh for handling the Munnar encroachment issue. Munnar might be that ‘one-off’ incident where the government itself supported a motion against corruption to such a large extent. There has been lot of pressure on VS, and he retorted to them saying “I have sent three cats to Munnar, and I don’t care if they are black or white. What matters is if they catch mice — and they really catch them, both big and small”. For the first time in my life I proudly heard a common passer-by shouting in the rain - ‘Leaders should be like VS, without bending his knees to the money of these big-shots’, as I watched JCBs bringing down those encroached structures at MG Road in Cochin.

Things went on well…..ahem…not for long. In a typical case, a land scam involving a local minister would have bitten dust in the collector’s office – but not when Mr. Swamy is the around. The repercussions of the land scam came out loud, and a certain TU Kuruvilla resigned from his post. Quite obviously there were too many concerned faces in the assembly, as Mr. Swamy went ahead strong on his attempt to wipe the system clean. When he started exposing the illegal land holding of PJ Joseph and his kin, the ‘system’ started showing its clever face. VS was jolted on his rib by a hand that came from the back seat of a plane (yeah!! You guessed it right – the same hand that grabbed at a lady), and he suddenly, out of the blue, realised that Mr. Swamy was very inefficient in executing his duty as a district collector. Yes folks, the same VS who brought him back from UN to wipe Munnar clean got an ISD call from God - a divine intervention. VS made the announcement that Mr. Swamy was an inefficient district collector. The best part was yet to come – since he was inefficient as a district collector, they transferred him to be the….errr…..the…. district collector of Pathanamthitta. The mind-blowing solution suggests that all you need, to sort out your inefficiency, is to just switch the district. So all those failed cricketers, inefficient salesmen – here is the new mantra from our government, Just jump on the next KSRTC bus and move to the next district :). And what does the highly knowledgeable PJ Joseph say about Mr. Swamy? “This person has been transferred through 6 districts in 18 months. He is an immature official; he will be liability to whichever district he goes!”. Yes Sir, PJ Joseph! That was a hilarious joke from you and the UN is a bunch of idiots. We know that he was transferred because of only one reason – He is born as a man of ethics and he stands by it, like a man.

These are not scenes from a Suresh Gopi movie. It’s something that has been happening right in front of us – making all of us citizens a bunch of sleepy hoodwinks. Shame on you, old comrade VS. Being a person who still admires the ‘real’ Marxian principles, I had a tinge of hope that you will do the state proud. But, shame on you! We know that you are powerless against the goons that actually rule the state. But I would rather throw the bloody chair and walk, rather than bending my back and my principles. I would hold my head high and take a stroll.

These politicians, irrespective of left or right, just stamp their foot on the face of innocent people and stroll with that pompous charisma – And all of us just stand by and watch like corpses, without a reason. Even when the government puts its hands on the pockets of the poor working class to collect a day’s salary for ‘disaster management due to rain’ while it gives 5 lakhs to Sreesanth (who has enough money in his kitty); Even when the government doubles the road taxes while thousands of common people rupture their spine and die, as they laboriously move through our damned roads; Even when these ‘leaders’ make a mockery of democracy and accuses rare talents like Mr. Swamy of inefficiency – We stand paralysed. We remain as dumb as a piece of wood. We do not have the time or patience to move even a finger. And that’s because we have mutated ourselves to be a part of this system. Let’s confess – We all are bloody bureaucrats……