Sunday, November 30, 2008


Mr Chandran, the enterprising science teacher of our village school, believed in inculcating scientific temper in children and sensitizing them about ecology though environment and bio-diversity had not yet become buzz-words. He had novel ideas to make even the drabbest subject appealing. Rather than rely on the illustrations in the book, he would ask bring live specimens of plants and insects. Not for nothing that his peers thought him to be a bit queer.

Items got added to the school laboratory, an apology for one till his advent at little or no cost. On hearing of a snake being killed, he would rush to the site with a jar of Formalin, collect the dead reptile which would then be a hot addition to the laboratory. The nest of the tailor-bird, dried leaves and flowers of every description mounted on cardboard, all came in handy.

It occurred to Mr Chandran that the interest of the children in ecology could be kindled by setting up a Nature Club. The children were awash with ideas: they could go to the nearby wooded area and collect samples of the flowers and the leaves, to the riverside and identify the fishes and undertake a trek to Tirunelli during Onam holidays to see the diverse flora and the fauna.

When it came to the brass tacks, however, there was a problem: money. These projects needed funds. The idea would not get past the Headmaster who had always thought of Mr Chandran as an eccentric with new-fangled ideas. Even if that was accomplished, there was no chance of getting financial support from the school manager for whom the school was more a profit-centre than a temple of learning.

One of the boys suggested that funds could be mobilized through a collection drive. Some teachers contributed their mite and children chipped in with small change, All that added to a sum too small for their needs.

Perhaps the affluent people of the locality could be touched, someone said. After all, it was a good cause, was it not? So, off they went, to Kumaran Vydyar who ran a thriving Ayurveda clinic, Sankaran Namboodiri the landlord and ‘Vyaghram’ Subbu Iyer the moneylender. Though all were not equally forthcoming, the response was positive.

The next person to be approached was Mammu Haji, who made money by trading in the cash crops of the village. Barely literate though he was, good causes brought out the benevolent man in him.

The children briefly explained their mission to the affluent Haji: founding of the Nature Club in the school which would meet every Monday. Not one to shirk his responsibility to the society, the Haji fished into one of the pockets of the broad green-and-red belt that held his chequered lungi and his corpulent person together, extracted a Rs 1,000 note, thrust it into the leader’s hands, saying, “Why stop with just one ‘neychore’ club? You youngsters should eat well. Set up a Biriyani club which can meet every Friday!”

Footnote: For those uninitiated in Malayalam, the word 'neychore' is a combination of 'ney' (rhyming with ray and meaning ghee) and 'chore' (rhyming with bore and meaning cooked rice) and the dish is exactly that - rice cooked in ghee with the hint of cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. One of the delicacies in North Malabar, specially popular in Muslim households, its aroma is tempting and, to translate a phrase used in such contexts in Kerala, the mere thought of it would leave one salivating enough to 'launch a thousand ships' - like good ol' Cleo's face is supposed to have done. So what is if it adds a couple of thousand calories and a centimetre or two to your girth?

Friday, November 14, 2008


Saramma kochamma had a green thumb. She had always nurtured dreams of having a patch of green and a beautiful garden in front of her house. For years, the dream did not materialise because her husband, Joyichan, an engineer in the steel plant in the north Indian town, was only entitled to a flat for most part of his career. She had, however, kept her interest alive by having potted plants in the balcony.

Ten years before his retirement, Joyichan was promoted to the next cadre which entitled him to a bungalow. For Saramma kochamma, the fact that she could now have a proper garden was more interesting that the position or the pelf the elevation would bring. And she made most of the opportunity. In less than six months of shifting to the bungalow, there were daisies and lilies, chrysanthemums and begonias and sunflowers in the garden in front. The birthday gift Saramma kochamma would value most, the children and Joyichan knew, was a packet of seeds of astorias or gladioli bulbs.

On winter Sunday afternoons, the entire family would be out in the garden, basking in the sun, the patriarch catching up with the reading and the children Susanmol and Sunnykutty engaged in a game of Scrabble. Saramma kochamma would be there too, of course, talking to her plants. The neighbourhood envied the well-manicured lawn and the vegetation and the blossoms.

In course of time, Susan was married off to a doctor in Canada and Sunny got a good job in a reputed software firm in Bangalore. Joyichan was retiring in a few months and Saramma kochamma could not bear to part from her plants. She was delighted that her husband changed his earlier decision to settle down in their flat on the Marine Drive in Cochin. They would let out the flat and move in to Joyichan’s ancestral property in the village near Kottayam, he had said. Saramma kochamma’s joy knew no bounds: after roughing it out for decades in the dry steel city, she would get back to the pastoral life. She decided that in the fairly large parcel of land that was theirs, she would have a kitchen garden behind the house and a good garden in front.

The sprawling house got a fresh coat of paint, the furniture a good polish. A cousin who lived nearby helped her landscape the compound and prepared a layout for the flower beds and the lawn, the perennials and the annuals, the creepers and the bushes. Soon enough, the hitherto neglected habitat was the cynosure of all eyes. The aging couple was enjoying their new-found loneliness in the new ambience.

Sunny soon found himself a bride in Molly, a research scholar. After a wedding in the church in May, they were soon off to Ooty for their honeymoon. The Queen of the Hill Stations was at her colourful best, getting ready for the Rose Day. Molly had been told of her mother-in-law’s love for the flora and bought packets of seeds of flowering plants and put them in a medium sized envelope made of kraft paper.

Sunny, a career boy, had decided what the future would be for his wife and him. She would let Molly complete her research, and armed with a Ph D, she would be in a better position to find a job in the Silicon Valley where he planned to migrate to. So, it was no children, no pregnancy till the Ph D was awarded. Sunny, an ecology-conscious youth, was averse to flushing the used condoms down the toilet. He put them in an envelope to be thrown out discreetly.

A fortnight after the wedding, the couple returned to the parents. As soon as they reached, Molly, in a bid to please the mother-in-law, pulled out the envelope from the pocket of the soft baggage and presented it with a flourish to her with the words, “These are some seeds we brought for you from Ooty.”

That evening, the young couple took an evening walk in the countryside when they planned to dispose of the prophylactics. Sunny felt that the feel and the weight of the packet seemed different from what he expected. Further probe revealed sachets marked ‘carnation’ ‘azalea’, ‘peony’ and ‘aster’ in the envelope.


Whoever said we dream in black and white was not right. I can say that with a great degree of certainty because last night I had a dream in several mega-pixels per inch (Oldtimers who are not computer-savvy may replace the last four words with ‘Technicolour’.0 It was special not just because of the variety of hues. It was like ‘The Bible’ by Cecil de Mellow: notable because of the number of characters who appeared in it. Like a mega-serial, it went on and on and on.

I dreamt that I had died. I was transported to a place that was neither awash with luxury nor miserable. It was neither heaven (Plush furniture, euphonious music, good wine, sumptuous repast, white sands, long legs) nor hell (Fire, boiling oil, sharp spears with red-hot business ends). It was a no-man’s land where people of my kind who were neither saints not sinners were consigned to, I presumed.

While I was wondering why none of our thinkers had mentioned only about heaven and hell and not about this area, the Supreme Judge appeared. After quickly completing what I suppose are the usual formalities, He pronounced my verdict: Hell.

To say that I was disappointed about the verdict would be a gross understatement, but I found several familiar faces there.

M was first one I met. He was a General Manager of the Bank I used to work for.

My boss G made some adverse remarks in his annual Confidential Report (CR) on me. I must concede that he was considerate (which, as you will learn later, is not a virtue that those who claim to be great men possess) to convey those comments in writing to me. Aggrieved that these comments were unfair and apprehensive that they may impede my career, I put in a request to the General Manager under ‘grievance redressal procedure’. The letter was drafted using facts and figures to demolish the observations of the boss in the CR.

Deafening silence is the only response for months. I send a reminder. Followed by another. Suddenly, I get a call from the Head Office: The General Manager wants to ‘interact’ with me in his office regarding my submission. I reach the venue on the appointed date. I am summoned in.

M surveys me from tip to toe and toe to tip. He remarks, ‘Just as I thought! A young officer with aspirations to rise in life threatened by a wily boss who is out to mar his career just because he has a pen in his hand. I see your point. I understand your predicament because I have faced such situations myself.

‘Mr Rajagopalan, I have gone through every line of your letter. Personally, I appreciate the way you have argued your case. You have marshalled incontrovertible evidence to support you. And arguing the case logically, you have put across your request. I must compliment you on your drafting skills.

‘I see that you have been hurt, and hurt deeply. And with good reason. I will ensure that justice is done. I will see that the CR is corrected and the damage is controlled.’

All I can do is to mumble a ‘Thank you, Sir!’

M then resumes, ‘Whatever I said so far was on a personal plane. You must remember that I am the General Manager of the Bank and am responsible for official propriety. I observe that certain words that you have used smack of insubordination. I cannot ignore your intemperate tone. There is enough in that letter to proceed against you for insubordination. Notwithstanding that, I want to get you out of this mess because you are an officer with a spark within.

‘I have thought a way out. I will address a letter to you pointing out the offending words and asking you why action should not be taken against you. You can send me a reply that you did so because you were worked up emotionally and request me to view the facts presented, ignoring the offending words for the use of which you may apologise. On receipt of your reply, I will neutralise the remarks. It’s a deal,’ he said reassuringly.

‘Fair enough,’ I tell myself. ‘Okay, Sir, I will do that’, I thank him for the intervention and leeve.

True to his word, I receive a letter the following week on the lines indicated. I shoot off a reply on the indicated lines and wait for the letter informing me that the adverse remarks in the CR had been neutralised and justice done.

A letter does arrive in a fortnight. It reads: ‘Though there are sufficient grounds for proceeding against you for insubordination, in view of the apology tendered by you and having regard to the fact that you are in the early years of your career, we are inclined to take a lenient view and you drop the matter.’

Not a word about the CR or the adverse remarks, not to mention correcting the injustice.

I deliver a hard punch on M’s belly and walk ahead.