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Musings

A Taste of Bibimbap & More…

By G Venkatesh

Ulsan, South Korea. Courtesy: Creative Commons

This was long ago. In the summer of 2013. Destiny brought me to South Korea for a week-long conference, the International Society of Industrial Ecology conference. I reached Ulsan, a city south of Seoul. Not having time to convert my USD to South Korean Won, before stepping onto the bus which would take me to the conference venue, and assuming that I could pay for my ticket on the bus, using my credit card, I proferred the latter to the bus driver. He shook his head. I then pulled out some USD notes and looked at him, hoping that I could pay the required amount of money in USD equivalents. He shook his head again. I said, “Okay, sorry,” and was about to turn and alight, when he turned his head and said something in Korean to the passengers on the bus. A young schoolgirl ran down the aisle towards me and said in fluent English, “You do not have to alight. I will but your ticket.”

I looked at the driver, and he smiled and nodded and beckoned me to take a seat. I looked at the girl, thanked her and asked, “Can I repay you in dollars?”

She smiled sweetly and said, “You are our guest. It is our duty to make sure that your stay in South Korea is comfortable. You do not have to repay me. You enjoy your stay here.”

I was lost in thought for the remainder of my journey, not having experienced anything similar to that before.

Bibmbap: Courtesy: Creative commons

The next day, I was guided to a restaurant about 200 metres from the conference venue, where I could eat some good-quality Bibimbap (Korean rice+vegetable dish). Being a non-experimental eater (one from whom gourmands would most certainly wish to stay away), I visited the same place for the very same meal at the very same time every evening for the next four days. Every time the elderly Korean lady who manned the counter, saw me walking in, she would intuitively know what I would be eating, and shout out ‘Bibimbap’ to the cook inside. On the 4th day, she asked me, in her broken English, ‘You here tomorrow also?’

I said, ‘No. I am going to Seoul tomorrow and then I fly to Mumbai.’

‘Oh, so last day dinner here. Then, you no pay today. Today free Bibimbap for you.’

‘But I would like to pay. I cannot eat without paying for it.’

‘No, no, free. I say free! You liked Ulsan?’

‘Okay, thank you so much. I liked the city a lot.’

I noted down the postal address of the restaurant and would send a postcard from Trondheim (Norway) – where I worked at that time in my career.

The next day, I had to take a train from Ulsan to Incheon. Time was at a premium when I reached the station. For some strange reason, my credit card ‘malfunctioned’. I had run out of Won and had foolishly forgotten to equip myself with some, as I assumed that the credit card would surely work at the ticket-vending machine at the station. I was a bit tense and started sweating profusely. I turned back and asked the young Korean boy who was next in the queue if the machine would accept USD or if there was some place nearby where I could quickly trade in my USD for some Won. He smiled, and said, “Do not bother. Where are you headed?”

When I said, Incheon, he stepped up and purchased my ticket for me. I read the price askance, did a  quick mental conversion to USD and requested him to let me repay him in that currency. He smiled again and said, ‘‘You are our guest. It is our duty to make sure that your stay in South Korea is comfortable. You do not have to repay me. Hope you enjoyed your stay here and will visit our country again.” So saying, he hastened towards the escalator on the right of the ticketing machine.

The very same words I had heard on the first day on the bus from the young girl. Perhaps this boy was her brother. Do-gooder siblings. Or perhaps they just represented the South Koreans – hospitable and helpful, doing God’s bidding on earth, smilingly and gallantly, without expecting anything in return…

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G Venkatesh (50) is a Chennai-born, Mumbai-bred ‘global citizen’ who currently serves as Associate Professor at Karlstad University in Sweden. He has published 4 volumes of poetry and 4 e-textbooks, inter alia. 

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Musings

September Nights

By Mike Smith

How beautiful this darkness! The air is still and comfortably warm, which for people of that age is surprising at this time of night. Half an hour and today will be over and night will have tipped into tomorrow’s early morning. The darkness will remain for an hour or two, more in fact now the year is turning too, with another season slipping into place.

Houselights are already off, not that there are many to be seen in any case down here in the valley: only the glimmer of one or two through the trees at each end of the river’s wide curve, and of the farm of course, behind, upon the rising ground. The double pizza-slice of flat grass field is a flood plain for when the river rises after heavy rain miles away upstream on the high fells. It has gathered becks as it falls and flows, and under the strictures of Civil Servants who have environmental boxes to tick no-one now who lives alongside keeps the channel clean, but natural processes clog and choke it for years until some catastrophic surge scours it out, bringing down fallen trees to smash bridges and riverside buildings to smithereens, collapsing banks and gouging the channel clean to bedrock.

The river’s nobody’s friend now; nobody’s resource. But miles away suits in offices can put up on their screens all sorts of proofs that everything is as it should have been since the ice-sheet’s retreat, when no-one lived here.

But tonight, the darkness is so complete that even the black amphitheatre of trees beyond the river’s further edge has merged with the black cloud-lagged starless, moonless sky and all has fallen silent. And people of that certain age, surprised at how pleasant it is to be motionless and silent, as if in a void, and to smell the faint odour of the distant pines and to feel the air warm upon their still warm skin, and to catch the sharp tang of salt upon their lips from tears running down their cheeks, they wait.

Mike Smith lives on the edge of England where he writes occasional plays, poetry, and essays, usually on the short story form in which he writes as Brindley Hallam Dennis. His writing has been published and performed. He blogs at www.Bhdandme.wordpress.com

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Musings

Remnants of Time Once Spent Together

By Sayali Korgaonkar

I thought I was never really close to my Aaji (grandmother). She became paralysed and suffered from many illnesses ever since I was too young to remember, so we barely interacted. When she passed away a few years back, I did not cry. I could not grieve as much as my mother did, or as my uncles and aunts did. I guess I am a bit like my father in that sense, not too emotional. A few years earlier when my grandfather had passed away, I remember everyone in my house crying, even those who barely knew him. I remember my father walking in from work, straight-faced, he touched my grandfather’s feet and went in to change. I thought my father wasn’t grieving his own parent’s death, but I have come to realise that everyone has their own way of dealing with grief.

Similarl, I think I still sometimes grieve my Aaji’s passing. I have come to realise I was closer to this woman in my life than I thought. When I was born, my Aaji stitched one of her sarees into a blanket for me. It was violet in colour and the softest fabric you’ll ever touch in your life. I have since grown out of the blanket by many inches, but I still keep it beside me as I sleep. On nights that I find it difficult to sleep, I hold the blanket close to me. I like to think of the immense warmth it gives as the love my Aaji filled it with when she first stitched it. I am 20 years old now, and I still cannot find peaceful slumber without the violet blanket.

My Aaji suffered from memory loss for about ten years. It got worse every day. The one thing I remember most though is that she would even forget her own sons and husband and mistake them for nurses or doctors. But in the twelve years that she was that way, she never forgot me. She always remembered me as her granddaughter, Sayali. I don’t think I appreciated that enough. And I think I still grieve for that to this day.

I have been fortunate enough to not lose too many people close to me yet. I have not experienced grief as much as many near me have, but I think I understand the weight it carries. The loss of a person is beyond anything that can be expressed in words. It is, however, something that is inevitable far too many times in one’s life. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (1926-2004), a pioneering psychiatrist on near-death studies, once said that one will “grieve forever. There is no ‘getting over’ the loss of a loved one. We simply learn to live with it.” That quote has stuck in my head ever since her death. The loss stays with you forever, and it changes you in ways big or small. Just like my Aaji left behind the violet blanket of comfort for me, everyone will leave a part of their life with you to grieve over, the remnants of the time you once spent together. It might feel like a burden, in the beginning, but you come to accept it as part of your life eventually. It makes you strive to be a better person than you were yesterday.

Sayali Korgaonkar is a  writer at heart and an aspiring journalist, who is passionate about telling stories.

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Musings

Istanbul

By G Venkatesh

Istanbul Airport. Courtesy: Creative Commons

The Schengen visa did not help much, being as it was on one of the pages of an Indian passport. I was told I could not get an on-the-spot transit visa to walk out of the airport and see the city of Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, which was one upon a time Byzantium, which in turn was known as Nova Roma when the Romans ruled it. Well, that meant spending 24 hours at the Kemal Ataturk airport – waiting for the Turkish Airlines flight to Oslo the next day in the morning. Memories of Tom Hanks in Terminal flashed past the mind’s inner eye.

Coffee and vegetable burger later, I sat down to test if a free wireless connection was available in the precincts of the airport. It was, and I could check my e-mail; not just that, I could also thereby shoot across some crosswords’ designs that I do for a magazine. Great way to spend time, I thought. Time was, is and will always be money!  My focus on the laptop screen was disturbed when a man walked past on my left, proferred his right hand and asked “Indian?”

“Yes,” said I, accepting the handshake.

“Pakistani, Shakeel,” he responded and sat down on the chair next to mine and immediately asked me if he could use my laptop for 5 minutes. I had heard about instances of threat mails being sent from cyber cafes or from laptops or desktops of totally-innocent, unsuspecting friends or acquaintances. Wariness did creep in instantly, but then I decided that I would not leap before looking… looking at the screen as he was accessing his mail. I did not wish to play into the hands of the ‘enemy’ as a noble do-gooder. There would have been nothing more disconcerting than that!

He spent more than 5 minutes and an edgy yours sincerely had to butt in with, ‘Boss, I have some urgent work to do; if you have finished.’ When I got back ‘possession’, I vowed to work on till the battery ran out, designed a crossword in the process, and then on the pretext of my fear of using unsecured wireless networks for too long, strapped the laptop back in my backpack.

After a long silence, I devised a means of dissociating myself from his company. “Okay then, I think I will just take a walk around the airport. It was nice meeting you.” I held out my hand.

He looked up and said, “I guess I shall also join you. What will I do sitting here all alone?”

I wanted to say, “That is none of my concern.” I did not. I would be saddled with Shakeel for the next 24 hours!

From my side, the ice was not broken. Hence, when he quizzed in Punjabi about what I did for a living, where I worked and how much I earned, I was a bit startled. I recalled being in the situation of the protagonist (played by amnesiac Aamir Khan) in the film Ghajini and wanted to say exactly what he says when a woman tries to get very informal with him – “I do not think I have known you so well as to be obliged to answer those questions.”

I brushed aside the questions however and decided to be as wary as wary could be. Shakeel, it turned out, had been living in Austria for seven years, managing a restaurant with his uncle. He had missed his Austrian flight in the morning, as the Emirates flight which got him into Istanbul from Dubai was delayed by 15 minutes. He had now asked his agent to rebook a seat for him on the flight to Austria next morning.

Shakeel talked of Indo-Pak business partnerships in Europe and lamented at the tension that has gripped the relations between these two neighbouring countries. I had the book, Wings of Fire with me. He pointed at Dr APJ Abdul Kalaam’s picture on the cover and commented that he is a very competent individual and wondered why he could not continue for a second term as President. During the conversation, mostly one-sided, he also said that people in India and Pakistan are more engrossed in producing babies while the rest of the world is pulling up its bootstraps and progressing fast. This statement, coming from a Muslim, took me aback a bit.

I treated him to Turkish coffee, after which he excused himself to go to the in-airport mosque, requesting me to mind his bags. “Risky undertaking,” I thought. What if…

He returned after a while though, and I scolded myself for having succumbed to paranoia and subsequent suspicion.

At around 6.30 pm, Shakeel insisted it was time for dinner and wanted to repay me for the coffee I had treated him to, by buying me dinner. I told him to carry on and said that it would be too early for me to dine. He looked at me and said, “Okay then, we will dine whenever you want to.” This was surprisingly very heartwarming and as we had known each other for just about 12 hours or so, seemed a bit too unreal. Such acts are the prerogatives of brothers and good friends.

As the day petered to a close, we decided not to sleep-starve ourselves anymore. Shakeel, still unsure of whether or not his agent would be able to confirm his booking on the next morning to Austria, dozed off and slept soundly. They say that anyone who can sleep without burdens or worries on his mind, has a clean and pure conscience. I, with a confirmed ticket, could not sleep for more than four hours – unclean and impure conscience?  I was up at 5.00 am, and at 7.30 am when I headed to board my Turkish Airlines flight to Oslo, Shakeel was still sleeping! I did not want to wake him.

Once in Norway, I sent him an e-mail. At the time of writing, it has been quite a while since I did that, and there has been no response, Maybe, he will not respond. Maybe, he is a good person who was upset with my not having the courtesy to bid him a proper ‘Khuda Hafeez’. I would never know.

Strange lessons learnt at the Kemal Ataturk Airport.

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G Venkatesh (50) is a Chennai-born, Mumbai-bred ‘global citizen’ who currently serves as Associate Professor at Karlstad University in Sweden. He has published 4 volumes of poetry and 4 e-textbooks, inter alia. 

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Musings

The ‘New Kid on the Block’ Celebrates…

Dr Kirpal Singh, an eminent academic and writer, takes a nostalgic journey back in time to recall the start of Singapore as an individual entity.

The years 1964-66 were very interesting– not only because on 9 August 1965 we became the Republic of Singapore but also because of the events (some may even term these as “shenanigans”) surrounding to the lead-up to our final independence. I was a little more than fifteen years old and though not fully in the know or swing of things, it was pretty obvious real changes were afoot. The racial riots of 1964 left a deep impression– some may call it a “scar”—and many of us were truly worried and even frightened at what prospects lay in wait.

Nerves were running high and tension was palpable. Much as our teachers tried to hide hard truths, it was abundantly obvious that major changes were bound to usher a new and different ethos. My late Uncle was in the thick of things and though he did his best not to display anxiety, the various insinuations in the media– coming as they did from a variety of differing personalities with radically different perspectives — did not assure much comfort in what was to come. The hubbub left many wondering and many others questioning what had gone wrong. They demanded the “truth” be revealed.

And so it was. Mr Lee Kuan Yew addressed the nation and in-between wiping his clearly moist eyes told us that we had been kicked out of Malaysia! The shock took minutes even hours to sink home. Neighbours chatted across fences just to confirm what they had heard. But it was too late to do much by way of not accepting our fate: Singapore was now out of Malaysia and had to embrace the future alone, without the larger community that had formed in the two preceding years. It was the start of a new chapter in our short history– and a new beginning.

The new chapter in our history began with a clear glimpse of Lee Kuan Yew wiping his eyes. After all his long-cherished dream of a “Malaysian Malaysia” was now, in a sense, shattered. Whatever the details of that critical meeting that is said to have taken place in Cameron Highlands between the Tengku Abdur Rahman and Lee Kuan Yew one fact emerged: Singapore was on its own — no longer a part or partner of Malaysia.

Thus began the slow and arduous journey of our independent Republic of Singapore. In 1965, I was fifteen and though still a teen it was abundantly evident that a truly historic transition had taken place.

Whether it was Lee Kuan Yew’s oratory or his emotional self that made the impact, it was clear that most Singaporeans rallied behind him and resolved to ensure that we survived. Survival was our prime and major consideration, and all endeavours were directed to realising this goal. Crucial to this was the daily recitation of our National Pledge- “We the citizens of Singapore pledge ourselves as one united people…”. Whatever people may say our National Pledge remains sacred and sacrosanct.

As I look back at the tumultuous tensions and uncertainties we faced in those early years of our Republic’s nationhood, I can never state that we were despondent or unable to push forward. Yes, it will be folly to try and claim that everything was hunky-dory. No, far from it. But one thing was totally clear and universally accepted, as Mr Lee Kuan Yew said, we were now on our own and we had to shape our own destiny. All the doubts and unpredictable consequences notwithstanding Singapore was now the youngest new nation on planet Earth and her citizens were committed to ensure the nation survived.

And she did. Indeed, Singapore gloriously more than survived! She soared and within less than a decade of Independence– by 1975– we were showing ample signs of “earned success”, a reward that even opponents of Lee Kuan Yew had to acknowledge as “ real”.

There’s not much need for me to go into all the many new legislations and policies and rules and regulations that were mooted and passed in Parliament and embraced by all branches of our young Republic. The Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary had to be built on strong and impartial foundations without regard to race or language or religion. It was for the young an exciting and sometimes bewildering phase of history. But Mr Lee kept sharing his vision of a thriving young nation bent upon making a mark in history. Slowly but surely, said Mr Lee, Singapore would build her muscles and demonstrate what is achievable when citizen and together in order not so much to “show off” but essentially to survive. Survival was the foremost goal– all else could come afterwards.

And so we worked hard– very hard — and despite all the trauma and pain, we pushed and pushed and soon began to experience for ourselves the fruits of our determination. More and more nations began to realise that there was indeed a new kid on the block in Southeast Asia and that this kid was unrelenting in its efforts to succeed and succeed with distinction.

And so, today, as we celebrate our 57th year of Independence we can proudly claim to have surpassed all expectations and put to paid any misgivings anyone might have harboured.

Before Mr Lee Kuan Yew passed on, he said, movingly, while strolling through our Gardens By the Bay, that looking around he was glad we did what we did. He felt all his sacrifices were more than worth.

And so here we are celebrating our National Day in joy and even glee.

But we cannot ever forget or ignore the harsh lessons we learned along our journey to full and complete Independence. We live in a world crippled by numerous setbacks — the pandemic just being one.

It remains for others to evaluate the progress and strides our young and tiny island nation has taken. For my generation our Singapore is a miracle — a miracle realised through hard sacrifice and unwavering faith.

Kirpal Singh is a poet and a literary critic from Singapore. An internationally recognised scholar,  Singh has won research awards and grants from local and foreign universities. He was one of the founding members of the Centre for Research in New Literatures, Flinders University, Australia in 1977; the first Asian director for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1993 and 1994, and chairman of the Singapore Writers’ Festival in the 1990s. He retired the Director of the Wee Kim Wee Centre.

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Musings

Grune Point and an Inkling of Eternity

By Mike Smith

Grune Point. Photo Courtesy: Mike Smith

It’s almost monochrome, the seascape, like a bleak Lowry: a single eye-scarring line across the off-white canvas. But there are other lines too, not quite level, drawn on the sky in soft pencil, Prussian blues among the clouds’ grey, not quite horizontal. And the horizon is not true. Dull green-grey hillsides, the heather not yet in flower, slide to the sea’s edge a mile or two across the inlet.

And the foreground mud’s sprinkled with rocks like chocolate chips scattered on an over-baked cake. Up close, grey-white pebbles, streaked and scored, when you get your eye in, with all the colours of the rainbow; shingle banked up to the low dunes, the sand too coarse and grainy for making castles however well you wet it.

A whimbrel. Courtesy: Creative Commons

Sea-wrack at the tiered tide lines, grey-brown, softens it, and strung out banks of what might make good compost that has been washed out from beneath the grass further up, where the fields fray. Seagulls and oyster catchers, and a solitary whimbrel — its long, curved beak thin as the thin stick legs, give it movement. The sea is too far out for waves to show and islands of mud, tinged green, are settled in pewter grey.

To the west, the peninsulas of Southern Scotland, to the south, where imagination and sight mingle on the true horizon, the Isle of Man is a possibility among clouds. Some days it’s so clear and bright and seeming near, you think you might wade out to it, or even throw a stone. Ancients, they say, believed it moved: drifted, floated, came and went at its own will or that of Gods. Some think of it as Avalon, wither Arthur went after his sword –drawn from stone by the iron-master’s Art perhaps – thrown into the lake, had been caught and drawn to deep water.

Writers of local history – and J.R.R.Tolkien, no less – have seen the name as a link to the Arthurian tale of Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight, but others, no less authoritatively have asserted that Grune is a corruption not of green but of groyne[1], signifying a sea-defence. Certainly, if you walk the coastal path along the stepped concrete from Silloth through Skinburness you will pass many groynes, the northern ones with their asymmetric piles of shingle and stone facing the south, four foot of rotting timber showing on the north side. From Skinburness it’s rock armour; stacked boulders the size of armchairs to break the force of the waves, but these are far more recent, by a millennium or more, than the naming of the place.

Look out from your seat on the dunes, a cut log or a fully rooted tree, washed down by the rivers and cast up on the beach, smoothed and softened by the rub of sand and water and weather, heavy as rock when wet, light as papyrus when dry, your collar turned up against the steady breeze up from the south, the gorse behind you too prickly to shelter in just yet, and the emptiness before you is palpable. There is the sense that you could sit here for a week, a decade, a century, a thousand years and nothing would come to pass that would not pass and become the same, but slow forces are at work already that time will not reverse, and this place among those will see those changes first.

Turn around. Face north and see the curving sweep of Scotland’s shore. Look eastwards across the spit. Beyond the billiard-table Solway plain the tips of mountains Hadrian[2] knew and of Northumberland. To the south the lumpy, soft peaked Lakeland fells flanking Skiddaw.

Closer, just off the point, the course of rivers running in and out to sea: Eden, Wampool, Waver, sticky with black dots of foraging birds, slick and sticky with mud in the ten foot channels where water’s only inches deep, but where the mud would grasp you by the ankles and hold you fast as the fast tide, faster than you can walk or even run, rises.

People love or loathe this place. It lies beyond the sounds of traffic. Even on a summer’s day, when it bakes under an unshaded sun, you may have it on your own, perhaps a couple leaving as you arrive, a couple arriving as you depart, a solitary figure, half a mile away across the gravel bank, silhouetted against the sky. Even on a summer’s day when the sky’s so high and wide you think you might fall in, it may have you on your own.

Once, on a midsummer’s eve, the sun touching Criffel, we sat and watched a lone canoeist, soundlessly, the slow paddle barely breaking the water surface, come in, riding the rising tide, a hundred or so yards offshore, the sea carrying them on, perhaps from Skinburness or Silloth, or who knows where? And, reaching the point, where storms gouge and notch the gravel tip, to what rendezvous, we wondered, were they being carried?

Criffel is a hill in south-west Scotland. Courtesy: Creative Commons

You can be alone here, barely a mile from the nearest house nestled in the gorse, from the last of farmland hedges, from the bungalows lined up behind the slight embankment of the coast road, only those with garret windows in the roof catching a glimpse of the water that one day, undoubtedly and perhaps soon, will wash them clean, and this gravel tongue itself, away.

Then it will fade in memory. Eerie. Peaceful. Silent save for bird song and the keen call of the wind. Bleak and beautiful. Magnificent and mysterious. A place where you might be confronted with the awesome sky, and the mountains far and near, and the almost monochrome seascape, or with yourself and nothing else but an inkling of eternity.   


  1. [1] A barrier built out into the sea from a beach to check erosion and drifting.

[2] Hadrian was a Roman who ruled from 117 to 138. He built the Hadrian Wall to define his extent of rule in Britain.

Mike Smith lives on the edge of England where he writes occasional plays, poetry, and essays, usually on the short story form in which he writes as Brindley Hallam Dennis. His writing has been published and performed. He blogs at www.Bhdandme.wordpress.com 

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 ‘You don’t have to understand life. You just have to live it’

By Shubha Apte

Life is never a straight line, and it isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. It always has ups and downs. By experience, we learn to navigate all the potholes and make the journey of life victorious. During this journey, we fall at times. But we pick ourselves up and continue to move forward. Confucius has said, “that our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time, we fall.”

 Looking through the rear-view mirror, we sometimes think of our choices and regret our decisions. But time does not standstill. It does not allow us to go back in time and change our decision. This is when the “what if” feeling grips us. We regret what we did, leading to a feeling of sadness.

As humans, we face millions of choices every day. Some of these choices can be good for us, but others can be damaging and significantly impact our lives.

When we make a wrong choice, we experience an overwhelming feeling of regret and know we cannot alter anything. We wish we could have done it differently. It can leave us stuck, always looking backwards and unable to move forward in our lives.

Trapped in this cycle of regret, we can become rigid, constantly blaming ourselves. But avoiding doing anything for fear of regretting it later is also not good as it tends to disengage us from relationships, opportunities and progress gets stalled. We cannot make all the correct decisions to make life perfect. A perfect life is more of an illusion. Accept that life is not perfect and start living.

“It is easy to mourn the lives we aren’t living. Easy to wish we’d developed other talents, said yes to different offers. Easy to wish we’d worked harder, loved better, handled our finances more astutely, been more popular, stayed in the band, gone to Australia, said yes to the coffee or done more bloody yoga.

 “It takes no effort to miss the friends we didn’t make and the work we didn’t do, the people we didn’t do and the people we didn’t marry, and the children we didn’t have. It is not difficult to see yourself through the lens of other people and to wish you were all the different kaleidoscopic versions of you they wanted you to be. It is easy to regret, and keep regretting, ad infinitum, until our time runs out.

 “But it is not lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is the regret itself. It’s the regret that makes us shrivel and wither and feel like our own and other people’s worst enemy.

 We can’t tell if any of those other versions would of been better or worse. Those lives are happening, it is true, but you are happening as well, and that is the happening we have to focus on.”

 ― Matt Haig, The Midnight Library

This quote about regrets made me start thinking about my own journey and the regrets holding me back. Some of the professional choices did not work out the way I had imagined. I decided to join a company based on its brand value but later realised that my personal core values conflicted with the values of the people that I was working with. When frustration set in, I decided to quit the job at the peak of my career. Looking back, I realised I had better choices and opportunities, and I had boarded the wrong bus. The disappointment I experienced from this haunted me for days. With a lot of determination, I did come out of this phase. I did not allow pain and despair to drag me into depression. It required me to look at life with a totally different lens and not allow the past to discolour my present.

I read the New York Times bestseller “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig around the same time when I was deeply entrenched in regrets, and the book resonated with me. This fictional story would resonate with anyone who has faced disappointment and regrets and wants to improve their life. The book is a gentle reminder to live life and find joy in the present moment. It is an affirmation of life’s many possibilities. We keep thinking of the days gone by and the opportunities that we may have missed, and in the process, ignoring the glories of the present.

Matt Haig is an English novelist and author. Through Nora Seed, the fictional character’s narrative, Haig encourages readers to let go of their past and make the most of their present. The central character, Nora Seed, has lost her job, her best friend, her brother and her cat, her relationships are a mess, and she decides to end her life. She ends it with an overdose of antidepressants, but she finds herself in the midnight library between life and death. Every book in the library offers her a chance to enter a life where she made a different decision and has regrets. By experiencing alternate versions of her own life, she realises there is nothing called a perfect life and prefers to live in her current state.

I loved the author’s idea of envisioning an infinite library between life and death.

The book compelled me to look at life from a totally different perspective. In life, you need to be strong from within, face the consequences of your choice and not get caught in the trap of regrets. We don’t need to understand life; we need to live it, and like Matt Haig said, “You don’t have to understand life. You just have to live.”

In the last few years, I have made many changes in my life. I have decided to use my potential to the best of my abilities and learn from my mistakes and the wrong choices that I had made and not to get caught up in regrets.

The past does not lead to happiness. The future is beyond our control, but it is the present that we are in complete control.

“It’s not the lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is the regret itself. It’s the regret that makes us shrivel and wither and feel like our own and other people’s worst enemy”- Matt Haig.

Shubha Apte is an engineer, business leader, certified executive coach, speaker, trainer and a freelance writer based in Bangalore with focus on diversity initiatives and women leadership. Her articles have been published in online publications for LeadChangeGroup, Pratilipi, IndusWomenWriting, Unscreen.org, LinkedIn. She blogs at  https://www.shubhaapte.com/

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Categories
Musings

Ruleman Ngwenya and Johannesburg

By G Venkatesh

Johannesberg Skyline. Courtesy: Creative Commons

Johannesburg or Jozi. This was the first city I visited outside my country at the age of thirty-two. Quite late for someone to embark on a foreign trip. Of course, my parents had never been abroad, but I was comparing myself with coevals here. And what a sojourn that was! Quite like a debut test for a cricketer where he gets into his own and looks forward to more stints at the crease or more overs to bowl. And there are many names which stand out in my mind’s eye – Rhoda (Anglicised version of Radha), Richard, Ruleman…Interestingly, the people I interacted most with during my short stay in the city, have names beginning with the letter ’R’!  

Before I embarked on my journey, and even after I arrived there, I was told that Johannesburg was notorious for the rampancy of crime – car thefts, knifings, muggings, rapes, daylight robberies and what have you. I was told:

“Never take any valuables with you when you go out.”

“Well, man, even if you do that, they will put a knife on you and ask you to give them your short and trousers and the ordinary footwear you would be wearing…these are guys who need to sell things to get money for their drugs, you see.”

“Take care, friend, your first visit to our country should not leave behind bad impressions on your mind. We want you to take back good memories and share them with your folks and friends in India.”

The Westerners and Indians in the city were concerned. I would hear these words of advice from almost every South African and Indian I would meet during my stay there. They cared and never let me venture out alone anywhere. Many offered to drive me down wherever I wished to go. I felt protected…a kind of informal Z security, unasked for. But perhaps I felt safe, perhaps imprisoned and fettered. It is hard to say.

I arrived in the city with the intention of meeting a publisher who was keen to employ me if it would be possible to obtain a work permit for me from the Government of South Africa – a gargantuan task even now. I wanted to get away from India, experience different working cultures and live a fuller life – professionally. It was at this magazine-publishing office that I met Richard and Ruleman. Richard of Dutch and English parentage, working as the editor of a mining magazine, and Ruleman of Zimbabwean origin, was employed as the office-boy.

While every minute of my stay in Jozi was memorable, considering that this was my first sojourn outside India, the last two days left a lasting impact on my mind. The dreams of obtaining a work permit were shattered, and I started making plans to wend my way back to India. I had purchased a return ticket and would have travelled back in any case – of course to return in case the work permit was granted.  On the last day but one, I was working late in the office, in order to do full justice to the project which has been assigned to me, even though I knew I had no future in the outfit or the city.

Only Ruleman was waiting, sensing that I should not be left to work alone in the office – burglars had broken into this office as well, I was told, a few months ago, and taken away some of the computers. Ruleman came into my room and assured me that he was waiting downstairs and that I could call him if I needed anything. At around 5.00 pm (work normally was wound up in Jozi at around 3.30 pm…they started work at 7.30 am) – which by Johannesburgish standards was late, I wound up, and walked down the stairs. Ruleman nodded, smiled, went around running a last-minute check of the doors and the lights and fans, and then escorted me out of the office. I used to walk back home – it was a 20 minute walk. Ruleman’s house was on the way. As we walked down, he asked me how I liked my stay here and felt sad that I would be leaving. He asked about India, and said he had always considered India as the ‘Land of Mahatma Gandhi’. I recalled that the African cabbie who had driven me down from the Jan Smuts International Airport two months ago, also told me the same thing. We reached his house.  He told me that his parents would be delighted to meet me, if I could come over for tea the next day. I smiled and said that I would love to. I thought that he would bid goodbye for the evening.

He did not. ‘I shall drop you at your doorstep. You see, this is not a safe time to be walking around in this city…I do not want anything to happen to you just when you are about to leave Jozi.’ I was thankful, though I would not really have bothered about walking down alone. ‘My father talks a lot about India. He had a lot of good Indian friends when he was working in East Africa in his younger days. You should come over tomorrow. He would be very pleased, and so would I.’ Ruleman dropped me off at the gate of the house I stayed in as a tenant and bid me goodnight.

Next day, when it was time to leave, I remembered Ruleman’s invitation. However, till the day I had walked down with Ruleman back home, Richard used to drive me down to my place of residence before turning right and heading home. This being my last day, Richard wanted to drive me down at 4.00 pm, for one last time. Ruleman said that he wanted me to visit him, as decided on the previous day. I did not know what to say or do. If I had told Richard that I would visit Ruleman, perhaps, it would not have been appropriate. Turning down Ruleman’s invitation would also not have been a very nice thing to do. And clearly there was no via media.

Richard drove me down eventually. I rued my decision. I may possibly never see that ever-smiling, do-gooder Zimbabwean again. I sent Ruleman a card from India on my return and Richard wrote to me conveying Ruleman’s thanks for the same. Small consolation perhaps. Man often talks about looking for the via media – the middle path – the path or course of action which would leave none the worse for it. There are occasions where a middle path does not exist at all.  A take it or leave it situation stares one in the face…just to remind man that no matter how hard he tries, there are many things beyond his control.

On a different note, when one sees goodness around, and care and concern for strangers who one would possibly not see again, one’s faith in God’s kindness being expressed through human agents gets reinforced. Jozi taught me a lot of lessons, which changed my perspectives towards life immensely. I was a totally different person on my return to India – calmer, spiritually aware, more respectful towards my parents, and in a nutshell – ‘grown-up’!  I realised that deep down, we are all connected to the Super Soul….and a desire to do good and a willingness to help, resides in all human hearts.

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G Venkatesh (50) is a Chennai-born, Mumbai-bred ‘global citizen’ who currently serves as Associate Professor at Karlstad University in Sweden. He has published 4 volumes of poetry and 4 e-textbooks, inter alia. 

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Categories
Musings

A Writer’s Pickle

By Adnan Zaidi

I don’t remember when I started writing, or why I started writing. I don’t even remember my first poetry, or article, or any write up for that matter. It’s been an eternity. I just know I have been writing from the time when the children of my age were out in the garden playing games.

Writing runs in my blood. No, actually writing is my blood. It is my only escape from whatever exists outside into a magical world of inside. A world where I recline over ostrich cushions, cladded in a robe finely woven by the angels of beauty, wearing a bracelet made of stars, enjoying songs of cuckoo birds who gather to celebrate the baptism of newly born fairy.

Sorry.

I got lost. Now coming to the point.

I am a poet, or at least I think I am. And not a very good one, trust me. I mean no one has ever come to tell me that they enjoyed any specific piece of my poetry that I recited or shared on social media. No one reads my couplets to their lovers. No one texts me to tell me that they were touched by my recent ghazal or nazm.

None of those things happen you see.

But hey, hey, hey, no judging! I totally get it. I do understand. Even sometimes I too get this strong feeling that one of these days I am going to stop writing this stuff that I consider poetry. And I am not even lying.

But then there are two questions — could I really stop? And do I really have to?

And the answer to both of these questions is negative.

I mean whenever I pick up my pen to write, never ever I bother about what people want to read. I just write what my heart dictates ( like 90% of writers out there). It’s more like a revelation of my soul. And I can never stop listening to these revelations. Because I don’t know how to.

I mean, I wonder, if I stop writing then who will tell people about the old Neem tree which was there in my house, and which used to smell like heaven when the spring blooms came? Or those beautiful roses as red as the blood of Christ? Who will write about the lessons my grandmother taught me as a kid, or the lullabies that my mother sang to me?  Who is going to narrate to them my perspective of the Romeo and Juliet? Who is going to write the last verse of that incomplete poem on my desk?

I need to understand the fact that when a poet writes a poem — no matter what — it is something that he has created, and he celebrates it. He should celebrate it! Irrespective of that fact the no one joins him in this celebration.

Because no matter what people say, every story is worth telling.

As I do not remember my first write up, I so don’t want to know my last. I want to die writing it. Leaving a door to my story open for others to enter.

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Adnan Zaidi is pursuing his masters in law from Aligarh Muslim University, India. He has recited his poetry on various platforms and has also been published a couple of times by different magazines. He also writes his own blog, raising social and political issues.

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Categories
Musings

Great Work…Keep Going!

By G Venkatesh

It has been so since my boyhood days. Quite instinctively, I have had to learn to look for silver linings in dark clouds. By a mixture of choice and compulsion, more of the latter though. I missed the bus often. When this happened literally, the silver linings were the kilometres I aggregated on foot, and in retrospect, considered that a blessing in disguise – a predilection to walking became an obsession and stayed with me.

Metaphorically, the missed bus would make me think and convince myself that what passed me by was not destined for me…it forced me to think laterally and imagine a divine purpose in the delay, which often would fester into a denial and necessitate numbing introspection. I thought of myself as a batsman at the crease being peppered with bouncers and beamers all the time, and having to invent new ways of scoring runs off these…quite like someone once decided to move away and hook and nullify the potency of bouncers. Just when I thought I had fought away the worse, deadly toe-crushers were being hurled at me, and I had to learn not only to block them but also dexterously play them on the leg-side and score runs. Bouncers, beamers and toe-crushers kept coming and I had to counter them. I felt exhausted. Tired. Were the rewards just the runs I was scoring, during these testing times?

‘Great work, bro…keep going. You are an inspiration.’ Every non-striker who would come in to partner me would say. The same compliment. Repeatedly. ‘Okay, but I am tired of setting examples, which I really do not wish to,’ I would think to myself.

I would wait patiently for the calm after the storm. Perhaps, the captain of the fielding side would bring on a gentler seam-bowler who would just bowl a good length on or outside the off-stump and enable me to relax into my orthodoxy.

Perhaps, there would be slow spinners who would give me a little bit of respite…Perhaps…Perhaps… But what if I become so exhausted by having to deal with these bouncers and yorkers and beamers for the sake of my team, that I get out? Of course, my teammates coming in at the right time, and facing the right bowlers would reap the rewards. Good for the team, they say. Is that how it will always be?

‘No, bro. There will be other teams with bowlers who are not so hostile as these ones. And there, you will be able to bat without a care, in fact.’ A friend counselled me, and wanted me to pat myself on the back for doing what many others may not be able to. I wonder. Time is fleeting past. Where are these other teams?

If I am wont to just facing the metaphorical bouncers all the while, I may well end up forgetting everything else. And yes, most importantly, age catches up, while one waits and expects something well-deserved – rather richly deserved and long overdue sense of being divinely protected – to just appear out of thin air, you realise you have to bid adieu.

What is right, I think to myself? Is it just being at the right place at the right time interacting with the right person? But how do I make it happen? It happens, they say. If destined to, they add. It is this addition that I did not want to hear. ‘You have to trust and have faith, only then it will happen,’ a smart alec chips in. And then, I think, what if this faith is shaken momentarily, and the trust is eroded by merciless winds of ill-luck and misfortune? Do I then lose, and does all the faith I nursed in my heart till that moment of crisis, just evaporate into nothingness? Just as getting out on 99 is not equivalent to having scored a century?

The more bitter the struggle, much better is the reward, says a holy man. ‘Much better’. Now, that is a comparative form of the adjective ‘good’, right? Much better than what? What is the reference point? Much better than the reward obtained by one who did not have to go through as bitter a struggle as I did? And does God really know what would make me feel vindicated? For when I look around, ponder the past and introspect, nothing that comes to mind seems to have the ability to provide me with that vindication which will at once make all the pain and trauma, all the sleepless nights and nagging doubts go away. So, is there something which my mind is not in a position to imagine, that may be found in God’s Santa-sack of Christmas gifts?  

I make myself a cup of coffee, and pad up to face the bouncers of the day that has dawned. I am out there at the crease, waiting for my batting partner and the fielding side. The sun is smiling at me, sarcastically. There is a crow on the pitch…perhaps, a dear departed one has sent some message. It stays for a while, then flies away. 

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G Venkatesh (50) is a Chennai-born, Mumbai-bred ‘global citizen’ who currently serves as Associate Professor at Karlstad University in Sweden. He has published 4 volumes of poetry and 4 e-textbooks, inter alia. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL