bskeshav

Too much world, too few statues

Short Story: THE LAST STRAW

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It was getting late enough to be worried. I once again stepped into the balcony and looked down. Except for a drenched street dog that was lying down miserably near the gate, there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. Rain water had puddled under the lamp post. A breeze ruffled the mango tree in the courtyard and a few twigs fell down and broke. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Did I hear a soft knock at the door? I turned back….

I stealthily moved towards the door. I knew the interior layout of my apartment down to the last stick of furniture and didn’t need to switch on a light. If there was anybody at the door, no giveaway sliver of light would betray my presence. I was getting good at this game now. I stood beside the door and held my breath. At that time there was absolute silence. The rains had kept the stray dogs away from their usual marauding through the night, apart from that little fellow down there of course

Three minutes later I let out my breath slowly and moved to the CCTV monitor mounted to the right of the door. As a further precaution, I ducked beneath the peephole. The CCTV camera was a new wide-angle ceiling mounted model that gave me a 360 degree view of the lobby outside. The salesman had assured me that nobody would be able to try a trick like sticking chewing gum on the camera or even spray any paint on it as it was Teflon coated. He had been right so far. It worked perfectly. The lobby was empty

I made my way furtively to the second bedroom. This was the one not visible from the front of the building. And since this was the last building in the large housing complex, the bedroom looked out on the sea. Nobody could see from the ground floor if there was a light on or not in this particular corner of the apartment – I had checked this personally – so it was the only place I kept the lights on, albeit with blackout blinds on the windows. I sat on the bed and looked at my watch. The time was 2:00 AM. It was time for my visit downstairs. I couldn’t put it off as this was precisely timed between the hourly patrols of the security guards

Now these security guards were no professionals. They were just rent-a-cops, village yokels – semi-literate migrants fresh off the trains from UP or Bihar, so I couldn’t take any chances. I gently opened the door that had been freshly oiled and it made no sound. Locking up did create a few muted clicks and clacks, but the immediate neighbours would be fast asleep. They were all Nine-to-fivers who commuted to Mumbai from our apartment complex in Navi Mumbai. Most of them went by car; the fools. They had to be out of the place by 7:00 AM or die a slow asphyxiating death in gridlocked traffic. So on weekdays they slept early, none of them would hear me locking the half a dozen locks I had fixed on my apartment door.

I crept down the Fire-escape staircase, eschewing both, the lift as well as the regular staircase. Six floors weren’t too bad for my joints. I know what they called me behind my back; budda ghoosat, zombie, walking-dead, one-foot-in-the-grave, etc, but I was going to show them what I was made of. My seventy-fifth birthday was still many weeks away and the men in my family tended to live till their eighties, except for a few here and there. One Mama drank himself to death, his liver gave up on the life he made it lead after just sixty years. Another second cousin of my father’s died in a car crash, but that didn’t count. All the rest had hung around and tortured their sons and daughters-in-law well into their eighties with their peculiar habits and superstitions

Speaking of relatives and habits, one grand-uncle of mine took the cake and the icing too. He just had to get up daily at five AM, bathe at the well, wash his own clothes and say his prayers before drinking even a cup of coffee. He wouldn’t compromise on a single step of this daily ritual. This was fine so long as he lived in the ancestral house in the village, which had a well and a washing stone beside it in the backyard. The problem started when all his children migrated to the city. His wife of fifty years too drew her last grateful breath, finally rid of the old complaining grump and he was too old now to live at the village on his own

In the city, most of his sons lived in apartment blocks that didn’t have open wells. The old man would insist on bathing in the compound with buckets of cold water he filled himself from the common tap. He then washed his clothes there, wearing a tiny loin cloth, on a stone erected for the purpose by his petrified son. The whole spectacle was amusing at first for the remaining apartment owners, but they soon grew sick of it. The cooperative society turned uncooperative and the old man was shunted off to another son’s apartment where the whole process repeated itself. He finally wound up at his fourth son’s place. This chap had managed to build a bungalow by then and wonder of wonders; it also had an open well in the backyard, which looked out on an open plot. Nirvana at last…

The old guy happily continued his routine every morning, till one fine day he just didn’t get up. All his life, he had harangued and harassed his wife, sons, daughters, daughters-in-law and multitudes of grandchildren, but was blessed in the end with a death that people pray for. Such is life…. Or such is death…whatever. This incidentally came to mind, because he was eighty-two when he checked out from Hotel Earth. But, we are digressing from the issue at hand

There I was on the Ground Floor, which was composed of stilts meant for parking. I was surrounded by cars of all kinds, none of which I could identify, having never owned one. Why does one need a car in Mumbai, or Navi Mumbai for that matter? We have the best public transport in the country. Cabs and auto rickshaws crawl out from under every stone, clamouring for your custom. Why then should we pay through our nose for something that depreciates in value by 30% the minute it leaves the showroom?

As an accountant, my lifelong romance was with figures and percentages. It just didn’t allow me to spend on such frivolities. All my money was invested in blue chip stocks, FDs, built property and gold, earning me a healthy dividend that fulfilled all my meagre needs. I owned the apartment outright; there was no mortgage on it. I was reasonably healthy. I had never bothered to marry. And I had successfully managed to alienate all my living relatives with calculated indifference and borderline obnoxious behaviour. Who needed those freeloaders? All that they were after was my money

Damn it, again I have digressed…this has been happening with annoying frequency of late

Okay, there I was on the Ground Floor, surrounded by cars, cars and if you missed the point, more cars. The place was a maze and I couldn’t figure how each one emerged from its position without leapfrogging over several others. But also parked there, within that entire latent horsepower was my bicycle

My bicycle

It was a Raleigh, a British manufactured pre-war bicycle that should have counted as an antique, but for some technicalities. It had belonged to my Grandfather, who had been a Postmaster in Shimoga in present day Karnataka that was called the Mysore kingdom then. It had passed to my senior most uncle, who gave it away to my father, who used it and maintained it well all his life. When he died, he didn’t have much to leave to his numerous progeny. He was more virile than financially astute. I laid claim to just that bicycle as my share of the inheritance. I had no interest in the ancestral house or the acres of coconut orchards that went with it. My brothers and sisters were surprised at first and later sniggered behind my back when I signed away all interest in my father’s legacy, except for that bicycle

I had it transported to Mumbai, to my rented flat at Matunga when I migrated to Mumbai. Matunga was the watering hole for all South Indians back in the 50’s. On retiring from my job at the Income Tax office, I brought it along with my meagre belongings to the swanky apartment complex in Navi Mumbai, where I purchased a sea-facing flat for a pittance. Back then, Navi Mumbai was looked upon as a destination for losers, the destitute and migrants, in short, all those who couldn’t afford houses in Mumbai. Like all of my investments, this one also had my Midas touch. Just twelve years after moving here, the flat I had bought for a mere 15 lakhs was worth ten times that amount

All these years, in Matunga as well as in Navi Mumbai, I diligently used that bicycle for small chores. It kept me fit, I looked after it lovingly and it rode like a dream. Spare parts were no longer available, but I scrounged for them at Chor Bazaar and kept the bicycle going. It was like the child I was never destined to have

Two months back somebody had begun to vandalise it.

At first it was mild stuff like letting the air out of the tyres. You know it has been done deliberately when both the tyres go flat and no puncture is found. I put it down to high spirited kids in the housing society and didn’t take it any further

The second incident happened a week later. This time both the tyres had been punctured. This could not have been an accident, because that very morning I had ridden over to the repair shop at Nerul and had everything checked and oiled. Coming back, I had checked it again before parking it for the night. Early next morning I found both tyres flat. I was now irritated. I walked it over to the repair shop and he was puzzled too. He couldn’t find any nail or pin that could have caused the puncture. Everything else was working fine. Somebody had taken a needle or a schoolboy’s compass to it. There were so many punctures that I had to replace the inner tubes

The third incident happened just four days after the second one. This time the rear brake pads had been neatly removed. No cuts, nor scratches, they had been unscrewed. Both Akhtar, the owner of the repair shop and I stood looking at the poor bicycle

“Sir,” said Akhtar finally, “This is not the work of any kids. To remove those brake pads, you need special tools; it can’t be done with just a screwdriver”

He got new brake pads and screws and fixed them only after a week and I thoughtfully rode the bicycle back to the housing complex. Who could the vandals be, if it wasn’t kids? Who were my enemies?

The last question was uncomfortable, but had to be addressed. I wasn’t exactly ‘Mr Popular’ at the housing society. There were reasons for this

The complex started off as a bunch of twelve buildings that had grown over the years to 58. I got in on the Ground Floor, so to speak. I was one of first members and being an accountant and retired, I was a shoo-in as Treasurer, a post I held for many years.

I did a lot of good for the members, if only they would have the maturity to realise this. I stood as a bulwark between them and the developer, not allowing the rogue to cheat the members out of their rights. But along with that, I also was a champion of many disciplinary measures that very few liked.

  • I set up a rigorous security system that didn’t allow visitors cars to enter the premises
  • I set up a patrolling system that kept the young girls safe, even if they were over 18 and into consensual stuff
  • I ensured that every pet owner picked up the poop liberally deposited around the carefully manicured landscape by their pets

There were many more like these. Every single one made life better for the residents – safer, cleaner, healthier and morally strong…but we Indians unfortunately are made of different stuff. Littering, loitering and trespassing are considered fundamental rights. Everybody talks of rights…nobody talks of duties. Can one exist without the other? We react very poorly to discipline…on our own shores, that is. At Dubai or Singapore or Sydney, we will toe the line unquestioningly, but back home, we will mock at the same things. This is the sad truth. And we will not read the message, we will attack the messenger. As a result I became the target of an organized hate campaign within the very place I had helped build into one of the most envied housing complexes in India

Two years back, I had enough and resigned from all the society posts and activities. I withdrew into myself and my books, but my enemies wouldn’t let me be. They began by posting hateful notes on my door. They stole my milk, newspapers and mail, till I stopped all deliveries and picked up things myself. But how long could this go on? I couldn’t remain passive. The attack on my bicycle was the last straw. Appealing to the society office-bearers was out of the question. I had no friends there. In fact I had no friends at all. I decided to take things in hand

The first thing would be to patrol the bicycle. All the vandalism happened at night and I was a light sleeper anyway. So I set up a system of patrolling of my own in the night to complement that of the guards. Today was the fourth day. I crouched behind a pillar that gave me a clear view of my cherished heirloom. This spot was not visible from the internal roads patrolled by the security guards. After ensuring that nobody had noticed me, I peered around the pillar.

What I saw shocked me. The bicycle was gone! The villains had dealt the final blow. I felt a shooting pain starting in my left upper arm. I had to sit down as the pain spread to my chest. I opened my mouth to scream, but no sound emerged    

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Written by B S Keshav

August 10, 2017 at 10:05 am

Sex is a Four-letter Word

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Hypocrisy

If a person would come to India today without knowing a scrap of its history, he would be astounded. He would assume that people here don’t have sex. They just multiply miraculously. Procreation here is just a simple matter like plucking fruits from a tree. Marry two people, preferably of the opposite sex and Bingo! Kids will appear nine months later. Such is the hypocrisy that we labour under and take pains to project under the garb of morality & Culture. What unadulterated crap!

Toddlers are admonished when they curiously examine their bodies. “Chee! Cheee!” goes the parent, “Stop touching yourself!”…And it’s all downhill from there on. Adolescents learn about sex from sleazy sources, with generous doses of guilt thrown in as if were something criminal. This confused kid is then expected to magically morph into a sensible & mature adult. One fine day, it is decided that the kid is old enough to get married. The couple then grope their way through life unhappily ever after. Say the wise chaps: Animals do it, don’t they? Who teaches them? This is all a matter of instinct. Like the baby need not be taught to suckle, this knowledge is also something we are born with.

Somebody forgot one small issue. Animals don’t marry, they mate. Courtship and mating is merely a means to an end – survival of the species. Is it the same with humans? Just a cursory glance at agony/personal columns will reveal a can of worms. Come to think of it, it is the educated that write to these columns. Then what of the illiterate?

We keep trumpeting the highly evolved society we were in days gone by. We were formulating our religion when man in other parts of the world was emerging from the cave, or worse – still swinging from trees. We invented the concept of zero. We had the first surgeons. Blah blah blah… Great – then why are we at this miserable state now?

What is the meaning of the erotic sculptures at Khajuraho? Why was the Kamasutra written? Who was responsible for all that? Not our ancestors surely? No way! That’s sheer blasphemy. Indians don’t have sex. They just multiply. Why do we have this warped approach towards sex now?

Where and when did moral policing come into the picture? Has someone stopped to think? It is puritanical rubbish like this that has created an unnatural and unhealthy attitude towards sex. This attitude has fuelled the rising spate of sex crimes. Maybe the answer lies at Khajuraho.

Talking of Khajuraho brought to mind this incident that happened around fifteen-sixteen years back. I was a visiting lecturer in an Architectural College. I taught History of Architecture. I was single and just twenty-four, not much older than the students I was teaching. Though normally quite confident, I got nervous the day I had to teach about the temples of Khajuraho.

I had a choice. I could, like the professor who taught me, rush through it, concentrating only on the broader issues like the shape, dimensions, materials, etc. Somehow that didn’t gel. It would amount to cheating. The alternative was to do a proper job. Explain what it was and why it had probably been done. Filled with resolve, I walked into the class. Roughly half the class was made up of girls. Once I announced the day’s topic, the girls broke out into giggles and my resolve slowly began to resemble ice cream that had been left in the sun.

I decided to abandon my usual professorial style. I perched on the edge of the table and said, “Before we get to today’s topic, there’s something I want to know. Will you guys help me?” There were quite a few who nodded. I continued, “How many of you had Sex Education as a subject at school?” A smattering of hands went up, both male and female, which was encouraging. I asked one of the boys “Can you tell me a little about it? Did it help you in any way?”

The boy laughed a little self-consciously. “I don’t know about the others, but it was totally useless for me. The teacher came into the class, read rapidly from a book and didn’t even ask us if we had understood. Actually, she didn’t even look into our eyes. Clearly she was embarrassed and we didn’t want to rub it in. It was as if she was forced to do it”.  I thanked him and asked if anybody else had a different experience. Everybody had gone through similar experiences. It sort of summed up what I had suspected all along, but this opening gambit had broken the ice to some extent, or so I thought. I plunged into my lecture.

“This is really a sad state of affairs. Things in the 9th and 10th century were quite different. Let’s look at this collection of temples that have attracted attention for only one facet, the erotic sculptures. I’m talking about the temples at Khajuraho. They were built in the reign of the Chandelas, in an amazing span of just a hundred years. Later, with the decline of the empire, they were lost to civilization and discovered only in this century. There were 85 temples originally, but only 22 survive today. Architecturally speaking, there is so much to marvel at, but let’s tackle the controversial part first: the erotica. Why do you think these temples were covered with these sculptures?”

I looked around the class. The kids had clammed up again. A couple of the boys did look up, but soon succumbed to peer pressure.

I continued, “Today, we associate so much guilt with the very concept of sex and here we have something so bold, done on a temple a 1000 years back. Ever since they were discovered, there have been many hypotheses. Let’s examine the top five:

  • These were meant for sex education. Brahmin boys in those days were sent away to Gurukuls and spent a long time away from normal society. They needed to be educated in the finer aspects of sexuality. (Possible, but not probable. Nothing in these sculptures seems the least bit educational. They are more like a celebration than anything else)
  • They are to be seen as a statutory warning. That’s why they are outside the temple. One is supposed to leave all such ‘unholy’ thoughts outside, before entering the holy abode of God. (Boy! If you believe that, you have to be really naïve. I’d like to sell you the Gateway of India)
  • They are meant to generate interest in sex. This would encourage people to marry. This would in turn mean more business for the priests who officiate at marriages. (Too far-fetched and has logical jumps. If you believe that, logically they may be incited to sex alright, but may skip the proper channel of marriage)
  • They are a record of why the Chandela Empire collapsed; too much indulgence in the wicked ways of the flesh (Ridiculous, considering the fact that the Chandelas made these temples in the first place)
  • They were a reflection of the honest philosophy of the age. The enjoyment of artha (material wealth) and kaama (sensual pleasures) while performing one’s dharma (duty) was the accepted way of life, enroute to Moksha (enlightenment). There was no hypocritical guilt associated with the act. To drive this home, what better place to pronounce it than the walls of a temple? The wealth of sharply etched detail, the consummate artistry and the sheer joie de vivre of it all is a pointer.

To my mind, the last one is the only plausible explanation. Furthermore, this line of thought rather than its literal implementation could also help us today. Wherever we turn, we encounter moral policing in one form or the other. For the most part, it is an insult to one’s intelligence. We say that an 18 year-old can vote and elect a Government, but the same chap is not given privacy with his girlfriend. We can trust him with the nation, but not someone’s daughter. How ridiculous can that be?”

By the time I came to the end of that lecture, I noted with satisfaction that I had gained the attention of my class. Gone were the inane giggles. I got some feedback later on from one of the students. He said that this was the first time someone had actually addressed such an issue in that classroom. And not just that, they appreciated the fact that I talked to them and not at them. True, it hadn’t been easy, but the effort had been worth it.

This brings me back to my grouse about the present. That was then and this is now. Everywhere I see the moral police are still at it. We have ridiculous chaps linking Bollywood to rapes and murders. Others talk of women ‘inviting’ rape by dressing provocatively. The Police beat up couples for daring to meet in a public park. There’s a group in Bangalore going around campuses, getting students to take a vow of chastity. Every Johnny & his uncle seem to be in a godawful panic to prove how virginal he is. The final step seems inevitable. One fine day, one of these Neanderthals will come up with the brilliant suggestion: “Ban Sex!”

So how will it be implemented? People will use chastity belts on their daughters, cover them with a burqa, not let them see any corrupting movies or Television and cloister them at home. They will also monitor their phone calls; hire a detective/bodyguard who’s preferably a eunuch to accompany them everywhere.

Instead of all this rubbish, why don’t we just shoot our daughters and put them out of their misery once and for all? That would be really humane. We can always find new ways to ensure survival of the species, if that is really a need. Cloning, Genetic re-engineering, whatever…anything but this.

Is this what our country has come to, a 1000 years after Khajuraho? 

Written by B S Keshav

April 15, 2015 at 4:44 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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Written by B S Keshav

October 19, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Posted in Uncategorized