First Salary. First Learning.

I don’t read newspaper.

I didn’t read it back then. It depresses me to read so much negativity.

Sitting on my terrace, sipping early morning tea, 15 years back, I flipped the page of ‘Times Of India’. I don’t remember why, but I did. In the middle, on the double spread was a Samsung mobile phone advertisement. I clearly remember it was a silver colour mobile phone, you could flip it open from the centre.

I was fresh in college and the mobile phone was new to the world and were very expensive. Those days, even incoming calls were charged for Rs 32 per pulse. So it was just not the handset, keeping a phone was exorbitant. There were only 3 players in the market – Airtel, Hutch and BSNL/MTNL. Idea, Reliance, Aircel was yet to venture. Hutch was yet to be bought over by Vodafone. Mobile phone had a flaunt value since only few carried it.

None of my family members had mobile phone. I had not thought of buying it either till the time I saw that advertisement. There was something about that phone that was calling out to me. Mesmerised, I asked my father to buy me that phone.

My father looked at me and said,

‘If you need that phone, you have to earn it.’

I was per perplexed, I was 18, how will I earn such an expensive phone. I had never worked in my life. So I asked my father,

‘I don’t know what to do to make that kind of money. I am under graduate, unskilled, who will employ me? How will I earn money?’

He explained, ‘If you need things in your life, you have to work hard and find a way to make money, so you can afford what you want.’

That made sense to me but I was still direction less. How will I make Rs 16000 ??? It was a lot of money.

I wanted the phone. It had casted a spell on me, I just couldn’t get it out of my mind. I was ready to work for it, I just didn’t know what to do to earn money.

Then one day, while walking through Bhikaiji Came Place in New Delhi, I saw an advertisement pasted on the wall of Hyatt Regency. They were looking for interns for some job. Since I had little knowledge about anything, I don’t clearly remember for what exact profile they were looking for.

The phone was on my mind so I applied. I filled the form, pasted my picture and dropped it in their office. A week later, I got a call for an interview. I appeared and was selected for the front office job.

Excited I went home and informed my parents about it. Hearing that, they were shell-shocked. They had bigger dreams for me and here I was wanting to work in a hotel for a phone. They didn’t say anything negative. They were more in wait and watch mode.

I worked for a month and got  Rs 12000 as salary. It was a big amount for that time for a 18-year-old undergraduate. I took the money home and gave it to my mother, she returned it back to me and happily asked me to do whatever I wanted to do with it.

I was still short of Rs 4000 which meant I had to work more.

As I was walking out of the house to meet up with my friends, my father called me and handed me Rs 4000 and told me to buy the phone. I didn’t understand why would he do that since now I was working and I could very well afford it in another month’s time.

He said, ‘I was wanting you to understand the value of money, nothing comes easy and nothing comes free. You have to work for it. And since you have understood that you don’t need to work  for money, any more. You should focus on your studies.’

I quit my job the very next day and went straight to Karol Bagh market to buy the phone.

Years have passed but his words are still fresh in my mind. After that, I have never ever asked for money from anybody in my life. I know, I have to earn it!

Butterfly Flutter

What I am going to tell you happened 15 years back, but the learnings will remain relevant, forever and ever. 

I am sitting on my terrace garden, sun bathing, admiring beauty and abundance of nature. Delhi is beautiful around this time, gardens get decorated with multiple coloured flowers. If you walk around on the road, you will realise yellow and dark pink are predominant colours, the boundary walls of the neighbourhood houses get loaded with Bougainvillea and the roads get carpeted with Amaltas flowers. 

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While I am engrossed in a book, my daughter nudges me  with excitement and asks me to look up. I look up and find two gorgeous butterflies right in front of me, they seem to be playing with each other. They hover around her head and move towards purple and pink petunia. They station themselves atop one flower, they rest for couple of seconds and then fly away.

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As I see these butterflies fluttering playfully on the flowers and my daughter trying to catch them, I get transported back to my college days.

My college had a beautiful lush green front lawn and an equally beautiful massive back lawn. There was a short cut to the nearest bus stop from the back lawns but there was no exit door. Students often used to climb up the wall to take the shorter route and in time a part of the wall fell. Unofficially, that part of the wall became our exit door.

One fine day, when I was crossing the back lawn of the college with a friend, we came across a small yellow and black coloured butterfly lying on the grass. I had never ever seen a stationary butterfly that’s why I had an inkling that she was hurt. As I was pondering about her, I noticed my friend taking a step to crush her. He was about to step on her when I pushed him away, he went tumbling down towards left.

I got very angry with him for his brutal act and as I was reprimanding him, an unbelievable thing happened. The butterfly flew towards me and sat on my shoulder, leaving me perplexed. I didn’t understand what happened. I was surprised by this gesture. For the next few minutes I stood still, I was fearing that she would fly away. She didn’t.  After five minutes I started moving towards the exit, but she didn’t move from my shoulder, she sat comfortably as if it belonged to her. She accompanied me to the door and when I crossed the wall, she flew away.

Butterfly is an insect, I am not too sure if they have any intelligence and reasoning.  she was not supposed to understand what I was saying or  doing. But she did. She understood and reacted accordingly.

Later my friend told me that he had no bad intentions, he was killing her to end her misery, or what he assumed was misery.

15 years later, I still clearly remember that incident. The whole episode strengthened my believe is love and kindness.

Language of Love, Kindness and Gentleness is understood by everybody.

It transcends through age, gender, cast, religion, nation, country, continent and in this case even species. 

With love.

An Act of Kindness

My ear problem revisits me in Delhi. In a different form this time, it’s not humming, it’s itching. So, I plan a doctor visit. I have an appointment at 10.00, I plan to walk as the weather around this time is very good. There is slight chill in the air and it’s sunny. Perfect time to enjoy Delhi.

I walk down the road and see car parked on either side, traffic is moving in both the directions. Though it is a road inside the society, but by looking at the vast traffic, it can very well be any main road. It hurts me to see Delhi deteriorating / advancing like this. I don’t know whether deterioration is a prerequisite of advancement. It’s the same road where we use to run around care free without bothering about traffic. Instead of the cars, it used to be lined with Amaltass tree on both the sides. That’s a different story for some other time.

Towards the end of the road I take right turn, now facing the sun directly. I see happy faces, carrying vegetables, walking their dog, generally chit chatting, a little boy cleaning car humming some song, they all look pleased for some reason. My guess is, it’s the weather, Delhi suffers extreme weather maximum time of the year, so when ever weather is favourable there is happiness and festivity in the air and that rubs off positively on the people. My fellow Delhiites who are usually very rude are surprisingly very warm during these months.

As I move forward, down the road, I see a lady dressed in yellow and white kurta salwar with brown jacket coming from opposite direction. As i move closer i notice, she is wearing dark sun shades and has make up on. A little too much for early morning. By the look, she seems to be in late thirties. I also notice, she has two books in her left hand, she is patting the books with her right hand, as if she is giving taal on some song.

As we approach T-cut, hoards of government school kids come running from the left lane joining us on the main road. They all look from junior section. They are dressed in blue trousers and white shirt. The mood is jovial, they are giggling, running, cracking jokes. Women in the yellow is approaching closer,  I see her distributing  two books which happened to be note books in  both the hands. She wades through the crowd of school kids, and extend her hands as if offering them note-book. She doesn’t say a word. Two of the kids, who are closest to her quickly snatch the note books from her hand. They don’t say a word of thanks. She moves on without looking back, they move on with wide smile on their face.

I witness it with amazement. In this world of instant gratification where you do every thing for a purpose, we still have people like her, who doesn’t even want a simple ‘Thank you’ in return. They are happy doing good for others without expecting anything.

I wanted to turn around, walk up to her and see her closely. I didn’t, for the reason I don’t know but I felt immensely happy witnessing this simple act of kindness.

Music For Soul

This was for the 7th time Bonita tried Abhimanyu’s cell phone but like all other 6 times there was no response. She could have left a message with Anita, Abhi’s secretary but she preferred telling him personally. It was not something she could have communicated over the  phone.

Half an hour later, there was still no response from Abhi. Bonita was getting restless, impatient, she had to tell him, it was such a terrible news, he had to know immediately. She picked up her bag and car keys and rushed out of her gorgeous flat in Mumbai just then her phone rang. It was Abhi, ‘Sorry babes, was in a meeting, is everything ok ?? saw your missed calls.’ Bonita knew everything was not ok and she had to tell him in a way that it hurts him least, ‘Mummy called, ummmm papa is not well, we need to rush to Kolkatta immediately’. Abhi was aware of his papa’s delicate health so rushing immediately could mean a lot worse, ‘Please tell me Boni, what happened, please tell me the truth i can handle it, is he….. is he alive?’ Boni hesitatingly, ‘Abhi, he suffered a massive heart attack couple of hrs back and …..’. The line went silent from both the ends. ‘Abhi are you there, are you listening, Abhi…..Abhi’. Abhi was in a state of disbelieve, he knew it was going to happen but so soon, he just visited him last week and doctor gave him 6 months, ‘Yeah, yeah, i am ok, i am on my way’.

They took the next flight to Kolkatta. Life is strange, just when you don’t want to remember anything it starts flashing on repeat mode. All the memories of good old days with his papa, his home, his mother, brother and sister kept appearing like a movie in front of his eyes. Waking up every morning to his mother’s beautiful voice, though she was not trained in music but she sang with perfection of a professional. The voice, the melody, the depth was just perfect. Every morning they would wake up to her Rabindra Sangeet, her voice soft, warm and delicious. Cycling to school with his elder brother and younger sister, playing in the lanes of sultry muggy Kolkatta, getting drenched in the monsoon rain which came before the season and lasted forever, visiting art galleries and various libraries with his father, annual picnics and boat ride to Raichak, walks on the bank of river Hooghly. Every incident that had ever made a mark on him was flashing in front of his eyes as if he was touring his life as an outsiders, as a visitor.

After all the rituals and ceremonies got over it was time for them to leave and Abhi insisted on his mom, Radha to come along, he was not wanting to leave her alone with papa’s memories. Abhi’s mother was reluctant to leave the house she came at a young tender age of 17, she was not yet 18  when she got married to Mr Mukherjee but when love strikes reasons goes beyond reasoning. She has lived in this house for over 40 years, it is at this place where Abhi, Sunjoy and Tara were born. The veranda spoke of the happy times, the little garden with mango and papaya tree was a witness of their childhood, the old piano in the guest room told the story of spectacular Kolkatta history as it was a gift from the British royalty.The old teak rocking chair narrated the stories Mr Mukherjee read out to his three kids every night. The kitchen smelled of gourmet meals which were prepared for special functions and parties. Everything was a proof that once a happy content family lived here. Though they are still happy but time and destiny have moved them away from home, away from Kokatta. And now, destiny was deciding once again and it was time for Radha Mukherjee to move to a new home, away from home. 

In Mumbai, slowly life came back to normal. Abhi got busy with his office, Bonita with her work. When you are young, new places, new people excites you but when you are old you are afraid of newness, you are afraid of change, adapting and adjusting to new life is far from easy. Radha was finding it difficult to adjust, everything has changed, big bungalow was replaced by a small flat, though by Mumbai standards it was quite big but she was used to open spaces, balconies, gardens, verandas, terraces, here all she had was three and half bedrooms. She was suffering emotionally and physically, the vacuum Mr Mukherjee had created was not to be filled ever, no matter what she did, where ever she went she was  always lonely. Though Sunny, her grand son kept her entertained and engaged in the evening but she was slowly and steadily loosing interest in life. She was sinking, it was as if she had no desires left. No matter how hard people around her tried they were not able to bring her out of the abyss she had begun to fall.

One day, when Abhi had to leave early, just when he was rushing out with his coffee, a melodious voice got his attention, he moved towards Radha’s room and found her deep in prayers, singing to lord Krishna. She was so lost in the prayer that she didn’t realise his presence, he waited and heard her for couple of minutes and then quietly retreated, not wanting to disturb her. On the way to office his mother’s voice kept playing on his mind, he realised that while singing she was totally involved and was sounding at peace with herself. He immediately speed dialled Bonita and asked her to find a Music school for elders. Boni was a little surprised with his request but when he described the morning, she understood that may be the answer lies in music, may be music will heal a lonely heart.

It didn’t take her much effort and time to find a good music school, it was for all age groups and was not far from home. Difficult part was to convince Radha to join. Radha was not interested, she outrightly rejected the idea saying, ‘what music will i learn at 58 and why should i learn now?’ It took Abhi and Boni weeks of reasoning and convincing before she finally agreed. To motivate her and to give her company Boni and Sunny joined the school with her. Initial plan was to join the school for few months just to make Radha feel comfortable but three of them started enjoying their weekly visits to school, they started bonding over music and throughly enjoyed each other’s company so they all continued.

Radha was always in love with music and in time she got totally engrossed but learning at 58 is not easy, voice is not steady, getting rhythm is difficult, since the hands are shivering, there is little control on harmonium but when you totally love something, you will overcome obstacles. She continued learning and practicing despite all her shortcomings and when time for examinations came she failed. It didn’t bother her much, she continued going to school, making music her mission, her drive.

When Abhi thought of the music school, he was just wanting to deviate his  mother away from sorrows of life, what began as an activity to keep her occupied,  became a reason for her being. Unknowingly, he gave her hope, a mission, a drive, a new way of life. 

One Fine Rainy Day

It’s pouring cats and dogs, Delhi roads can’t take 2 minutes of rain and here it is raining for last 2 hrs resulting in water logging, jam and chaos. It’s taken Sunanda, over 3hrs to travel 6km and now few meters away from her Bungalow, she is stranded as her car has broken down. She is a resident of plush New Friends Colony, not all places in Delhi have to face the heat of the government not getting along with Centre, the colony is well maintained, clean and green, roads are smooth lined with Ashoka tree on both the sides.

Today is different, rain is creating havoc, there is water logging even in front of A-143 /2,  so the only way out is to walk. Sunanda gets out of the car and start wading through the mini pool when she hears slow whimper, due to raindrops plummeting all around her she can’t really figure if it’s a dog, cat or any other animal. Chances of other animals is quite less since Delhi is a civilised city and only street dogs, cats and cows throng the town. She looks around but nobody is in the sight, water is covering every inch of the road, within 2 minutes she’s dripping wet and now does not mind the rain. She starts combing the water, few steps towards her left she sees an open manhole with wooden blog stuck on either side of it. She walks toward it and in her horror finds a small puppy dangling from it, making the painful noice to make his presence felt. She quickly gets down on her knees, put her hand in the sewer to rescue him from the sewer flood. The puppy immediately clings on to the only hope in sight. She takes him out gently, embraces him warmly and brings him home.

Saturday being a holiday everybody is at home. Sunanda wakes up to realise that the puppy she brought home last night is creating havoc as Rob, her Alsatian and Diana, the Labrador is not quite getting along with him. Though he is tiny and scared but he is strong willed and displaying as much courage as 2 pound of flesh can display in front of 30. She quickly gets out of the bed, hearing her mother’s voice over the dog’s barking and howling. At the breakfast table, her mother announces that she need to let go of the new addition in her brood and as she is already tired of 2 dogs and a rabbit. Sunanda being in office entire day, her mother is the one taking care of the entire Malhotra family that would include the dogs and the rabbit. Sunanda knows what can be debated and what is already a lost battle with her mother, she understands that it’s not easy for her mother to handle the entire clan all by herself. As they are talking, her brother, Arjun, walks in and take the seat opposite her, next to her mother, clear indication that he is not on her side, on this issue. She just have to let go.

During the day she decides to let go of Matty, the sewer dog. With heavy heart she leaves him some distance away from A-143/2 and walks back home. Next day, on her way to office she finds him in front of the gate, remembering her mother’s sermon, she ignores him and drives away. In the evening, he is still there. Next morning, he is still waiting, seeing his dedication and fondness for her, she melts down and decide to provide for him, take care of him but outside of the house since he doesn’t have visa for the bungalow.

She instructed the guard to provide Matty meal thrice a day and to let him sleep outside the gate next to his chair. She started meeting Matty twice daily, on the way to office and on her way back. No matter what time she returned she found him waiting, he would meet her and then wander off in the by lanes of New Friends Colony. The routine continued for two years, Matty well fed by the guard grew up into a handsome dog.

Travelling from NFC to Gurgaon is getting hectic and their new Sushant Lok home is also ready, the Malhotra family decides to move closer to Sunanda’s and Arjun’s office. Pandit declares 17th of April auspicious enough for them to move. Movers and Packers is assigned and packing starts two days early, Rob and Diana gets shipped to Sushant Lok a week in advance to stay with the guard. Matty continues with his routine unaware of the development. On 17th, truck gets loaded and leaves for the new abode. Sunanda along with her mother are last to leave in their silver Honda City.

Sunanda bids Matty farewell with heavy reluctant heart and take to the wheels. She starts the car engine, presses the accelerator and drive out towards the Ring Road. In the rear view mirror she sees Matty following them, he follows them for next 5 min and then runs out of sight. Though it is Sunday but traffic is not on a holiday. Towards Nehru Place, traffic is crawling at the snail’s pace, suddenly out of no where, Matty appears next to Mrs Malhotra’s window, trying to climb up the the car window with his little paw to see his friend, mother, guardian, care taker. In the first, Sunanda doesn’t understand Matty’s affection for her mother but seeing her mother warmly smile towards him she gets the connection, it was her mother who provided and took care of him all these years, while she was away in office. She may not have given him entry into the house but he held a special place in her heart.

As the signal turns green, she opens the door of the car and Matty happily jumps in to be a permanent resident of Sushant Lok.