Friday, February 28, 2014

THE OLD MAN IN THE PARK – CONVERSATIONS RESUMED

THE OLD MAN IN THE PARK – CONVERSATIONS RESUMED

Well I did not go to the concert the next day not because I did not want to meet the old man; in fact I did want to, but other things kept me busy. The Kutcheri season had ended but I thought that I may bump into him in some concert or the other in the neighbourhood sometime. I did look forward to it for I felt there was something else to him than the flippant exterior he presented. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when a few days ago I met him in the park, sitting there all alone and watching the children play, with a smile on his face. As I approached him he looked up and said to me – 

“Well there you are. Did I really bore you so much that you decided to skip the rest of the music season? I am glad that we meet again and I promise that I shall not intimidate you with my remarks. Come sit down here if you have the time and may be we can talk a bit about the good old days. Sorry, but that’s all I know about now”.

I did not hesitate and sat next to him and said “Frankly I was looking forward to meeting you again. You interest me”

He laughed “Funny, whoever would find an old man interesting? But I like your openness and you have patience. That’s what I gathered when I met you that day. If my guess is right you are in your early sixties isn’t it? Now may be you can guess my age”

“Eighty five at least”

“Eighty seven to be precise”

Though he did look old, he appeared physically much younger and mentally very alert. But there was something sad in those eyes. He was obviously a very intelligent man who had seen and undergone all the trials and tribulations that life could offer. I looked at him and smiled.

He carried on “I come here nearly every day in the evening and watch all the people who come here. It is not curiosity, but as I watch them the park seems to come alive. After all as one sees his end approaching, he wants to feel ‘life’. As I sit here, the evening slowly drifts away as dusk settles down and then the night creeps in. I am in the dusk now and soon it will be night and I will go home”.

It was a lonely man that I saw sitting next to me, but one who had accepted the coming of the end. He had seen it all. I asked him “who else lives with you at home?”

He laughed “Home? Well I had one till last year as long as my wife was alive. Now of course I have a house where I stay with a servant to keep me company. He is also getting on in years. I brought him along from my village where he was living as a destitute and now he looks after me, as faithful as a dog. Sorry I couldn’t find a better expression”

“What about your children? Where are they?” I asked.

“No, I don’t have any children. There is a brother and his family who do come to see me frequently as they stay nearby. My wife passed away last year. You see we had been together for more than sixty years. It was only a question of who will go first and she did. What saddened me was that she had to go after suffering for some years. She had cancer and many a time I have wished she had gone much earlier. But when I look back now, I am not dissatisfied with the life that I have led, except for the fact that there were no children. But I did find other outlets to compensate for that. I love children and I have done my bit for all those destitute and orphans in my own way and it has given me and my wife great happiness. You may wonder why we did not adopt a child, but that is of no consequence for in the end we ended adopting many more this way. After the death of my wife I have slowly withdrawn into myself, but I do find a lot of solace in music and that’s why I do not miss any concert that is held in this neighbourhood. My friends do drop in at times but now one cannot have a conversation with them for they also have their problems. That day at the concert and now today I find it easy to talk to you though you are a stranger”.

As it was getting late I got up and asked him “Will you be leaving now? I can walk along with you till your house”

He said “No go ahead. I shall remain here for some more time. But we shall meet again I hope. You can always find me at this spot and next time I promise that I shall listen to you; till then, bye and all the best”.

As I walked out of the park, I turned back to see him, a lonely figure on the bench as the dusk settled. The night was slowly creeping in. that’s what life is all about – the dawn, the light of the day, the twilight and then the all consuming darkness.


Monday, February 17, 2014

THE OLD MAN IN THE AUDITORIUM

THE OLD MAN IN THE AUDITORIUM

I entered the auditorium and found it nearly full. There were seats available only in the back rows and I wanted to get closer to the stage. I always do that for I like to see the artiste perform from close quarters; gives a better involvement and feel with what’s going on. As my eyes wandered across row by row, my attention was drawn to a hand waving at me indicating that there was a vacant seat over there. The owner of the hand was an old man. I sat down after he removed his handkerchief which was placed there as if the seat was reserved for someone that he was expecting to join him.

He was perhaps at least twenty years older than me and that’s why I referred to him as ‘old man’; not that I was very young! The first thing that struck me was the person himself – lean, thinning white hair on the head, unshaven face, piercing eyes and acquiline nose. He was dressed in a white shirt and a dhoti; looked as if they needed a cleaning, I mean the dress.

As I sat down I said “Thank you sir. But I thought that you had reserved this seat for someone whom you were expecting. I am sorry if I have inconvenienced you”.

‘Absolutely not, the pleasure is mine. I put my handkerchief there as I did not want some idiot to sit next to me. Since you did not look like one, I waved you over” he replied.

I was thrilled that here was one person who did credit me with some sense. But at the same time I was apprehensive that by the end of the concert he may come to the conclusion that I was one, an idiot. This was a classical music concert and though I always enjoyed listening to the music, most of my time is spent in watching the reactions of the audience.

He continued “You see during last night’s concert I was driven to exasperation by the gentleman sitting next to me. Not only did he applaud at the wrong moments but also started singing along and expressing his appreciation with loud grunts. I had to walk out in the middle of the concert for I could not bear it any longer. I only glared at him and did not say anything for we have grown up believing that we should not offend anyone through our words, that’s why I ensured the seat was vacant today. You seemed a decent sort of person and I took a chance”.

“My God!” I said to myself. What an effective way of ensuring that I did not in anyway upset his enjoyment of the concert. This old man was shrewd. His piercing eyes said it all.

The concert was yet to start and the musicians were still busy tuning their instruments. The child in the front row stood up on his seat and directed his attention towards the old man. What a sight it was! Two pairs of eyes separated by at least eighty years staring at each other without either of them giving up. The child then started making faces at the old man and pushed his tongue out of his mouth and then said something, which I guess only the mother sitting next to him could understand. Twice or thrice she cajoled him saying “don’t do that darling, you should be a good boy, otherwise the policeman will come and catch you”. When she found that this had no effect she turned her attention back to the stage.

The old man visibly upset, turned towards me and said “See this is how they bring up the children nowadays. Can you ever imagine such things taking place in the good old days? There is no discipline now, whether at home or in the schools. My mother would have smacked me on the butt and ask me to behave myself. And in the school the teacher used to wander with the cane in his hand to ensure no one misbehaved. Now neither do they discipline nor do they teach. Wherever you go it is only crowds you see and it is only money that makes up your life. In the good old days one could go to a concert, sit on the ground and listen to the artiste sing without the constraints of time. Sometimes the concert would go late into the night. Now the concert ends before the artiste starts to feel the music”.

I knew that I had to be careful with my responses and so I said “Yes, what you say is absolutely true. But I guess we have to accept what is happening now. This is a different era and the world has moved on”.

He gave me a thoughtful look and was about to say something when the concert began. He settled back in his chair to listen to the artiste singing. I watched him and it was fascinating to see the change in his expressions as he closely followed the nuances of the music that emanated from the stage. He appeared to know each and every composition that was rendered, for in between he would lean over and tell me the name of the raga and the name of the composer. During one such break he said “Why do they try to pack in so much in two hours. By the time you get into the mood of the raga, it is over. Have you ever been to the concerts of the past greats? The alapana itself would take an hour. Have you attended a concert of MDR (M.D.Ramanathan)? What an artiste! He used to make each note linger in the air as if he was caressing them”. I did not answer for the next composition had started. I pondered over what he had said. In a sense what he said was true. I myself have been transported to sublime heights listening to Bhimsen Joshi’s abhangs late into the night. You can’t blame anyone. Who has the time now? One tries to pack in as many things as possible within the time available to him. I thought that it was like having mini meals during lunch breaks. But one has to recognise that there is still enthusiasm among the younger generation to learn despite all the constraints and challenges that they are subjected to now. They have created opportunities for themselves and learnt to survive. So it is not always proper to talk of the ‘good old days’ for the reality is different now.

When the concert ended, he asked me where I lived and when I told him he said “That’s not far off and I presume that you walked over here. My house is on the way only and we can walk back together, if you don’t mind”. I didn’t mind for by this time I found that there was something very interesting and genuine about the old man.

As we walked, he asked me in Tamil “So where did you dump all your garbage till now (Kuppai kotinay in Tamil literary means ‘dumped your garbage’ but does not have the same effect when translated into English. That is where I guess translations lose some of the effects of the original)?” and seeing the expression on my face he laughed, “Don’t take it seriously. I only meant to ask you where you worked”. I also laughed and told him that I was in the Bank for thirty five years and retired.

He had retired as a pretty senior official in the State Government. He asked me whether I would be there at the concert next day. I told him that I was not sure. How could I tell him that still a generation separated him from me? What the ‘good old days’ for him were ‘very old days’ for me. I was still in my cradle.

Maybe I shall go to the concert tomorrow, if not the music at least to resume my conversations with the old man.


Monday, February 10, 2014

THE TRAVAILS OF AN ASPIRING AUTHOR

THE TRAVAILS OF AN ASPIRING AUTHOR

It all started with ‘Nothing’ you can say and ultimately nothing happened.
Am I confusing you? Forget it, it’s nothing. But seriously it all started a couple of years ago when I was having coffee with a friend at a restaurant. During the course of our conversation he asked me –

“So what have you been doing till now? When you retired last year you told me that you were planning to write a book and have it published. What happened?”

“Nothing”, I said.

“What do you mean nothing?”

“Yes, I am writing a book. It’s nearly complete”.

“Oh! I guess it is should be a romantic thriller”.

“No. It’s actually ‘Nothing’”, I said.

“What do you mean? You just told me that you were writing a book”.

“Yes, the name of the book is ‘Nothing’.”

“My God!” he scratched his head in exasperation. “If it’s nothing, what the hell are you writing about?”

“Well, it’s about ‘Nothing’. I have nearly completed the first draft. If you want to see it, I shall mail it to you”.

He nodded, finished his coffee and walked out. I presumed that he had said yes, so I sent him a mail but I am still to hear from him.

Actually it all started after my desperate attempts to read Sartre’s ‘Being and Nothingness’. It was too heavy both by content as well as weight. Ever since it has been sitting in my bookshelf and looking down at me as if in contempt. I decided that the only way I could get it out of my system was to write a book myself. If someone could write something about nothing then why shouldn’t I?

Few days in to my writing, one day my wife found me sitting at the computer and staring at it. She asked “What are you doing just sitting there and staring at the computer?” I replied “I am writing a book and now I am just thinking”. She looked at me strangely and then asked “You never told me. Anyway what are you writing about?” I replied “I am writing ‘Nothing’”. She did not reply but switched off the light leaving me with my computer and the desk lamp on. She then said “Anyway, I am going to sleep and you can continue writing ‘Nothing’”. So now you know how it started.

That was just the beginning of my travails. As I continued to progress in my quest, I was many a time besieged by delusions of grandeur – a successful author, award winner and bestseller. I even thought about how much I would be offered by way of advance for my next book. At last it was over, I mean ‘Nothing’.

I was now ready to get my book published. I was told that there were two ways of publishing, one the traditional and the other self publishing. On the advice of some of my friends I opted for the traditional publishing as it did not entail expenditure once the publisher takes up the book for publishing and the entire distribution and marketing will be done by them. But again I was advised to have the manuscript read by a third person other than the family, to get a proper feedback on the contents.

I thought that was not difficult as I had several of my friends who I knew would be willing to that. So I sent it out to two of them. They are still to get back to me. Now looking back I presume they were in a quandary as to what to give as feedback, but it is also possible that they never looked at it. But anyway I thought that fortune favours the brave and walked into a publishing house only to be told that I may go back and send my manuscript by post or mail it to them. Of course they were courteous enough to ask me whether it was fiction or non fiction. I said that I would decide and then send them. Actually I did not know where my book would fit in. I guessed that ‘Nothing’ should be fiction and accordingly chose the genre. Don’t you agree?

To cut a long story short six months later my manuscript was returned. I was told that even if it had been accepted I would have to wait in the queue before my book was taken up. My agony was cut short. But I did see a light at the end of the tunnel. Yes I could go for self publishing.

I did it with the basic package to cut down my expenses, as I was confident of my editorial skills (not realising that I was the author and not likely to improve the quality of the manuscript) and marketing (oh yes I was sure that with all my friends in the social media networks and the readers of my blog, I could do a decent job). I forgot to add, that there are any number of self publishing houses, who are only too keen in publishing your work as long as they make money out of it for the rest is your responsibility. But they did help in making something out of my ‘Nothing’.

I forgot to mention that in the process of editing my book I think I did a fairly good job of it for I was able to reduce it by about fifty pages. If in the process you ask me what was left I can say ‘Nothing’. I must have read the book at least twenty times before I decided to call it off. I was overcome by ‘Nausea’ as Sartre would put and for the first time I understood what ‘nothingness’ was. A few more attempts at editing and I would have been left with nothing. I was also reminded of the time when in the process of trimming my beard and the hair on my head i ended up near bald ( not that there was much of it) and a french beard.

Well then came the next part and I thought that should be easy. I announced in my social media network that my book was at last published and requested all my friends to purchase, make a review and post it on the site. There was a tremendous response from my friends on the social media network. I had more number of likes than the number of books sold.

But I was a satisfied man, as at last I was successful in making something out of ‘Nothing’ and I don’t mean money, for I am still far away from breaking even.

At the end of it all I sang –

Nothing comes from nothing,
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood,
I must have done something good.